I have a little beagle. She’ll be five in August.

If you don’t know much about beagles, just meeting mine would give you a full-on understanding of everything that epitomizes the breed. She’s the friendliest dog I’ve ever interacted with. She can see a person from a hundred yards away and begin to whine with anticipation, tail wagging rapidly. She takes it as a personal offense if a passerby does not stop to pet her.

She has quite the characteristic bay. It has the startling quality of a fog horn and it only has one volume — loud. When she unleashes this cacophony her greatest desire is to draw every person and every dog within earshot to come be greeted with her ferocious love. Of course, what she doesn’t understand, is that her discordant racket just sounds pretty awful to anyone who doesn’t understand the beagle bay and usually scares away anyone who would have come to pat her charming little head.

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She eats unapologetically. There is no quantity too much for this dog. She also has no palate whatsoever as she is just as likely to consume used cigarette butts found on the ground as she is to indulge in a filet mignon (assuming she could ever get her little teeth on one of those.)

She’s also one of the most empathetic creatures to roam the earth. Shed a tear and she’s glued to your side.

In short, she’s awesome.

And apparently I’m not the only person in the country who feels that way about their dog. Americans love the canine — man’s best friend and all that. We love dogs so much that even a pandemic couldn’t stop us. In fact, it made our love even more profound. The pandemic increased the demand for puppies and rescue dogs to such a high level that we literally ran into a nation-wide dog shortage.

More than three million new pets were bought or adopted from Petco during the pandemic. The rescue dog search site Petfinder saw a 79% increase in traffic across its platform and other similar sites saw a 23% uptick. According to the Animal Care Centers of New York City, only about one in 10 dog foster parents turn into adoptive dog owners. That number changed to one in four this time last year. Dog adoptions nationwide are up almost twice the rate they were pre-pandemic

The industry, including all the materials and supplies that come with the purchase of new pets, has spiked 12% in annual sales. By the height of the pandemic, a dog was a pretty hot commodity. Puppies were even more difficult to track down. Even now, a canine addition to the family can be pretty hard to find — regardless of the dog’s age.

We simply love dogs.

That’s why the proposal for a new dog park in the county comes at a perfect time. Currently, Homosassa houses the only public dog park. And while many of Citrus County’s parks have trails and dog waste facilities, they don’t have dedicated spaces for dogs to run and play and most importantly, to socialize with other dogs and dog owners.

This proposal suggests that one be built in Citrus Springs. It would essentially place the only two dog parks in the county on completely opposite ends — not really central to anyone. A $64,000, 2.5 acre dog park in Citrus Springs may not be the solution. But it is safe to say that proposal exposes a need within our community — more places for the thousands of dog people out there to allow their dogs to freely roam, play, and socialize with other dogs. The more a dog is socialized the less likely they are to be aggressive or have behavioral problems and the less likely they are to become shelter dogs.

Dogs are an increasingly important part of our society. Citrus County parks should consider how to better incorporate pets into the facilities they offer. If a large dog park placed at one end of the county isn’t a viable solution, then perhaps a plan to add smaller dog areas to more parks across the county could be accommodated. This would allow more people to use dog park facilities and potentially just reallocate current land within already established parks. Even if those spaces, at the beginning, were simply fenced in areas with a few benches, it would allow for dogs to run freely off leash and for their humans to meet more of their neighbors who share a common interest. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Kudos to the citizen who brought the proposal up to the Board of County Commissioners. Even if that original plan doesn’t fly, it gives space and motivation for others to brainstorm and create solutions to meet the needs and desires of our citizens.

Either way, it seems that dogs are here to stay as an even more important part of our social fabric than ever before. We should have more spaces for them to be a part of our community.

Cortney Stewart is a 2003 graduate of Lecanto High School. She has bachelor’s degrees in political science and international affairs, a master’s degree in intercultural studies and is currently working on her Ph.D. in international conflict management. She most recently spent two years teaching and training students, teachers and government officials in Baghdad, Iraq. Email her at seeingbeyondccc@gmail.com.

(1) comment

SusanSullivan

There are many considerations when building a dog park, not just fencing off an area and putting in a few benches. Many may not know we already have a huge, private dog park in Inverness, Bark Central Dog Park. No, the entry isn't free, but it's very reasonable. All the dogs have to be current on vaccinations and be of good temperament. Courtney, I know this is at least the second column you've written urging the County to build a dog park. I encourage you to come visit and see what all the considerations are and why a private park is a better option. Visit our website at least. www.barkcentraldogpark.com. I opened the park for just the reasons you cite about exercise and socialization and because the county wasn't interested in opening one. That was 15 years ago.

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