Annual event gives people and their pets the chance to see just how much fun a walk in the park can be

Pleasing a dog is usually as simple as some fresh water, a quick scratch behind the ears and freedom to run.

While the ear scratching is completely up to owners, Tigard's dog parks can provide the other two elements to keep man's best friend happy. And with Dog Days of Tigard coming up on Saturday, people and their pets will have even more reason to see just how satisfying a trip to the park can be.

Dog Days of Tigard, which runs from 9:30 a.m. to noon at Potso Park, will feature appearances by Washington County K9 Unit, Search ONE K9 Detection, Dove Lewis and Hill's Science Diet, as well as agility and coursing demonstrations. There will also be contests and a raffle for dog toys and other items. The point of the event is to mark the 2002 opening of the park, as well as to give owners a chance to gather information. It's also an opportunity to publicize the benefits of bringing dogs to the park.

Just ask Kimchee, a black toy poodle who goes to Potso Park a few times each week. Jennifer Newcomb, Kimchee's owner, said that during the first six months of going to the park the toy poodle just sat on the picnic table because she was too afraid to interact with the other dogs. Now Kimchee can be seen running and playing with dogs literally twice her size.

'(The park) is not only good for the dogs, it's good for the people,' Tigard resident Newcomb said. 'They're an essential part of the community, especially to people with apartments.'

Newcomb has been a regular at Potso for a number of years, bringing both Kimchee and her companion dog Lola to 'get the jams out of their toes.' On a good day she said you can find close to 30 dogs running loose in the fenced park, with a variety of breeds ranging from pit bulls to labs to German shepherds in the large dog area.

Newcomb said she usually sits at a picnic table in the small dog area sharing dog stories with fellow owners, and although she is familiar with the other people at the park, they often refer to one another as 'So-and-So's mother' rather than by their actual names.

While she has visited other area dog parks a few times, Newcomb prefers Potso for its good maintenance, large size and friendly atmosphere. And she is not the only one, since she knows people from as far away as Vancouver who make the trek to the park. Sometimes people who are not even dog owners bring their children out to play with the pooches.

Newcomb is such a fan of Potso that she persuaded her friend Teria Jasper to bring her dachshund, Lucky, to the park. Since Lucky has been going to the park, Jasper said he has become more behaved and his separation anxiety has lessened. He is also more confident.

'I was just afraid that Lucky wouldn't get along,' Jasper said. 'But there's never been an incident.'

Besides Potso, Tigard is home to Summerlake and Ash Street parks, giving the city a grand total of three pooch-friendly areas and making it the first city in Washington County to develop dog parks. Chris Garsteck, the chairwoman of Tigard Dog Parks Committee, has been involved with bringing dog parks to life for a number of years. She said the city experimented with designating an unfenced area in Cook Park as a place for dogs to run off-leash in late 1999 or spring 2000, but the experiment went badly and drew complaints from nearby neighbors.

Because of the complaints and the concern of many citizens who wanted a safe off-leash area, the city council authorized the creation of the Tigard Dog Park Committee in September 2000. Since its inception, members of the committee have worked with the city to establish and maintain off-leash parks.

Garsteck said it has taken many hours of work by dedicated committee members both past and present to keep the parks running. Current members of the group include Julie Wittmann, Jim Stevens, Lynn Stevens, Julie Padbury, Nicole Smith, Karl Flemming and Gillian Austin, and Garsteck said they have been invaluable.

'No one person can do this by themselves,' she said. 'I'm just one little piece of this thing.'

Even after all the long hours she and the other members have spent on this project, Garsteck said the payoff is worth it. She also said more cities need to follow suit.

'The biggest thing we need is for other communities to step up to the plate,' she said. 'I'm positive other cities have just as many dog owners as Tigard … it would be nice if they could designate one or two (off-leash zones) in their park areas.'

While the three Tigard parks maintain the same basic idea of giving dogs a place to play, there are a couple factors that separate them, including size (Summerlake takes up two-thirds of an acre, Ash Street is a quarter-acre and Potso is 1.7 acres of land) and hours of operation (Summerlake and Ash Street are open dawn to dusk daily, while Potso's weekdays hours are from 4:30 to dusk, and dawn to dusk on the weekends).

Beaverton also has a dog park, though it is not run through the city the way Tigard's are. The Hazeldale off-leash area, operated by the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District, sits adjacent to Hazeldale Park near 192nd Avenue and Prospect Place. In addition, numerous dog-friendly parks are located throughout Portland and the surrounding areas.

With all these options in place for canine entertainment, Garsteck said it is important for owners to understand that not every dog is ready to enjoy a leash-free outing and it is up to them to judge whether or not their pets can handle such interactions.

'You need well-behaved dogs that can socialize properly,' she said. 'Just like a playground, it can be horrible or it can be nice.'

In Newcomb's experience, dog behavior is a non-factor at Potso, since the people who bring their dogs are generally very responsible.

'I have not seen a dog in the years I've been coming that was not well-behaved,' she said. 'People are really good about watching their dogs.'

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