Dogs, their humans celebrate opening of official Vero dog park

VERO BEACH — Celebrations and galas are by no means unusual at this time of year and in this place – Vero beachside. But the celebration that took place Saturday, was not your basic air conditioned, black tie, cocktails, and soft music affair. Instead, there were leashes, regular tails, and a DJ playing high energy songs, mostly about dogs. It was the long-awaited Grand Opening Ceremony and Festival for the terrific Vero Beach Dog Park.

Attendees included dog lovers of all ages, government officials, groomers, trainers, and others in canine-related businesses – and, of course, the four-legged guests of honor, dozens and dozens of beloved canines, of various shapes, sizes, breeds and personalities.

And they all shared one special quality among them – Good Manners. The whole caboodle just seemed happy to have such a big, fun place to run and play.

From the boat launch and oak canopied parking area across the Barber Bridge on Indian River Drive East, the grassy, 5-acre field stretches across to the Vero Beach Marina. It had been an unofficial sort-of dog-park for years, open only from 5:30 to 7:30 a.m.

Now, with the dedication of volunteers, businesses and other supporters and in cooperation with the City of Vero Beach, which owns the land, it has been transformed into a beautiful facility, open seven days a week, dawn to dusk. There are spacious fenced areas for big dogs and little dogs, a trials course, benches, landscaping donated by the Garden Club, and even authentic fire hydrants.

There are water stations and a Sally Port entry area for further security. And it’s all free to dogs and humans and, as a 501 (c) 3, is supported by generous donations.

Master of Ceremonies and Dog Park Board of Directors member Bob Joy welcomed the crowd and spoke of the park as “an overnight success that took 15 years.”

Among the several sponsors and business supporters were principal sponsors Costa d’Este Resort, Shamrock Real Estate Corp. and Divine Animal Hospital.

Although Costa’s owners Gloria and Emilio Estefan, devoted dog lovers, could not be present, their dog Jack (the face of Costa, representing the dog-friendly hotel) and hotel manager Ed Riley were in attendance.

Special kudos went to Board Member Jim Welles, who fearlessly spearheaded the project and successfully sought support all over town. Vero Beach Animal Control Officer Bruce Dangerfield provided a brief refresher course in Dog Park Etiquette, Rules and Regulations: no nipping, play nicely, stay on leashes, share at the water bowl and remember to pick up your pup’s poop, among other guidelines.

Dogs and their owners crowded along the south fence to watch a special demonstration by the the Sheriff’s K-9 officers and their handlers. These keenly trained working dogs went through their paces, not distracted by all the civilian pooches poking their noses against the fence for a better view.

As Dog Park supporters like to say, it’s “as much for people as it is for dogs.”

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