Carpinteria Dog Owners Group pilots off leash area
Until October, dogs in Carpinteria didn’t have a public place to call their own for at least a few hours.
Whereas Santa Barbara has many dedicated dog areas — even a beach — Carpinteria’s dogs had to settle for encroaching on human spaces.
Carpinteria Dog Owners Group realized Carpinteria is one of few towns along California’s Central Coast without a dog park. So it asked the Carpinteria City Council for an off-leash dog area where pups could play.
“It is surprising because if you had any other demographic in town that was strongly represented as dog ownership, you would have such a strong response in terms of reflecting the lifestyle of the town,” said Erin Milne, board president of C-DOG.
“For example, if 30% of Carpenterian’s had wheelchairs, there’d be ramps everywhere. At least 30% of Carpenterian’s are dog owners, and we haven’t felt that same accommodation,” she told the News-Press.
It took a couple years for the city to agree to a pilot program, allowing C-DOG to use a field at El Carro Park for a few hours each day. If the program goes well, maybe the organization will get to use the park after the one-year trial period ends or even create a dedicated dog park in another part of town.
C-DOG began when board members Van Fleisher and Kevin Twohy and a few friends met up at parks, let the dogs off leash and watched them play. Over time, people noticed and joined.
“I found this group during the Montecito mudslides when everything was shut down. I was walking through town just looking for a place just to let them off leash for a little while, and I happened upon the park and found this group,” said Cyndi Burt, current board member.
“It was just like it was love at first sight. I was so happy to find a group of like-minded people,” she told the News-Press.
The dog owners routinely met at the park and let their dogs off leash, although it’s illegal to have dogs off leash in a non-dedicated area.
“Every now and then we would hear that the code enforcement guy was going to come, and that’s bad. And we just didn’t feel like living under that kind of cloud,” Mr. Twohy said. “We want to be legitimate. We want to not break the rules.”
One day, a code enforcement officer told them to stop but offered a suggestion: Ask the Carpinteria City Council for a dog park.
They researched and presented their case to the council.
“(The council asked) how many people want a dog park, and everybody in the audience stood up. And they realized that we’re gonna listen to these people,” Mr. Fleisher told the News-Press.
Officials warned them that it’d take a long time to go through the zoning process but suggested they find a way to test their concept.
“We had to prove ourselves. But I think at the end of the day, it’s a really good organizational group. Van and Cindy in particular along with Erin and few others have kind of been the glue,” Mr. Twohy said. “Because the city needed to see there was some substance it wasn’t just a fly-by-night thing.”
The COVID-19 pandemic brought an opportunity for them to pilot an off-leash area. The members saw that El Carro Park’s north field was empty, as sport practices were called off, and asked for dedicated hours to use the field.
Their year-long trial started Oct. 31, and it instantly built a community of dog owners. C-DOG members estimate that around 35 dogs come to play each day.
“What was really great was the dogs got to play and get to know each other. But as a community, we got to know each other, and that was just one of the best things ever, honestly,” Mr. Twohy said.
Friendships and business relationships have formed from the group. They meet with masks on and space at least six feet apart but have gotten figuratively close through conversation.
“I had lived here for about a year and a half and hadn’t really made a lot of connections, and hadn’t really put down roots. And that all turned around when I started coming here,” said Ms. Milne. “One of the parks and rec directors that I spoke to in another city said that it’s wonderful for dogs, but it’s even better for humans.”
The dog owners were all smiling, and many commented at how relaxed they feel at the park.
The pooches were also comfortable, running around the field and catching Frisbees with their friends.