Saratoga County

Pooches race around wide fields

Newfoundlands scampered alongside Jack Russell Terriers, unencumbered by collars and leashes, in

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Newfoundlands scampered alongside Jack Russell Terriers, unencumbered by collars and leashes, in the unofficial dog park on Crescent Road off Route 9 in Saratoga Springs Sunday morning at a “Doggie Earth Day” event.

Dozens of dogs, ranging from chocolate Labs to St. Bernards to poodles, raced around the wide fields of the 40-acre property. For several years, dog owners have taken advantage of the area located across Route 9 from the main entrance to the Avenue of the Pines at the Spa State Park, using it as an unsanctioned spot for dogs to be released from leashes and play freely at their own risk under the direct supervision of their owners. While the land is owned by the Spa State Park, it has not been declared an official dog run. At the far end of the field is an entry gate to the trails, where prominent signs state that dogs must be leashed at all times while on the trails.

Dog owners were asked to meet at the site Sunday to help clean up the open fields and the trails of accumulated trash like cans and paper cups, as well as any dog waste left over from winter. Most owners pick up after their dogs using the small plastic bags provided in the parking lot at the site.

The land has been declared a habitat for the Karner blue butterfly by the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation, and provides habitat for 30 other species on or near the endangered list. Nature educators from the Saratoga Spa State Park are hoping to find a way for canines and small species like the Eastern Splayed Foot Toad to get along peacefully at the park area.

“Park police could come in here and issue tickets for dogs running off leash, but we’re trying to find a compromise,” Andy Fyfe, a park outdoor instructor said, sitting at a booth Sunday watching the dogs romp.

Fyfe said park officials try to strike a balance, letting dogs enjoy the freedom and canine company without impacting the butterfly eggs in the fields and along the trails that wind through the wooded areas beyond the open space.

“Dogs can use the fields, but once their owners take them through the wooden gates that mark the entrance to the trails, they need to leash them,” Fyfe said. “Most people are good about this, but many people, when they see a sign telling them to leash their dogs, are just tempted to do the opposite.”

Fyfe said the sandy, scrubby brush of the field and neighboring woods are the perfect habitat for the endangered species to proliferate.

While some of the dog owners trooped into the area as part of their regular outdoor activity, the day was meant to harness the energies of the people to help clean up the space. Armed with plastic bags, rakes and scoopers, and wearing rubber gloves, people paraded around the field scooping and bagging.

“People are usually good about cleaning up, but there is a fair amount of garbage out there, plastic bags and cans,” Rebecca Mullins, also a park employee said. “Bags are always on site here for people to pick up after their dogs. It’s been a mutually beneficial place for the park and for pet owners.”

Kim Diaz of Malta brings her dog Duckie, a Great Dane standing about 32 inches high at the shoulder, twice a day to the park. Duckie nosed around the other dogs until she found a familiar face.

“She has a best friend here; for us it’s like a play date,” Diaz said. “This is the only place to go for a dog run in the area. There’s a small place in Ballston Spa in Kelly Park, but this is our favorite.”

Diaz said she’s aware of the need to protect the natural habitat, but also wants to see the dogs have a place to get in touch with nature.

“I understand where they’re coming from, but for the dogs it’s a sad thing if they can’t be outside playing freely,” Diaz said. “My dog loves to chase squirrels and rabbits. Maybe we could have a few trails designated for the dogs.”

Many of the pooches worked up an appetite chasing tennis balls and each other, and a couple of doggie refreshment stands lured them in for free samples of biscuits with flavors from broccoli carrot to apple parmesan. David Gage, co-owner of Paw Lickers Natural Bakery and Boutique in Greenfield, also displayed items designed to stimulate the dogs’ minds once their bodies tired out.

“These are dog puzzles, with treats hidden under the playing pieces so when they sort them successfully, they get a reward,” Gage said. “Dogs need both physical and mental stimulation.”

Dogs need a good memory and also good paw-to-eye coordination, since the puzzle pieces are maneuvered using paws or their noses.

Mike Newhouse of Milton, owner of Kody the Newfoundland and Kelsey, a Saint Bernard, who at a healthy 150 pounds was one of the larger dogs Sunday, said all the canines play peacefully in the park.

“When I first brought my dogs here, they were so little I carried them in,” Newhouse said. “They’re like the police in here now; when they see any dogs making trouble, they try to break it up.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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