CORRECTION (Tuesday, May 6, 2014): This story has been updated to reflect the proper list of speakers during the dog park opening ceremony.
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With a gentle command and a little bit of peanut butter, Newtown’s off-leash dog park was officially opened on May 3.
Cleo, Assistant Director of Recreation Rose Ann Reggiano’s dog, had the honor of “cutting” the ribbon to Park and Bark, Parks & Recreation’s newest park, after an opening ceremony was held late Saturday morning.
Ms Reggiano admitted some peanut butter had been placed on the ribbon to help Cleo know where to chew. Once the ribbon fell, Ms Reggiano announced, “The park is open!”
Residents and their dogs can now visit the two-acre park located on Old Farm Road, adjacent to The Brian J. Silverlieb Animal Care and Control Center. The park is open daily, dawn to dusk.
A number of people spoke during the ceremony preceding the opening, including Ms Reggiano, Parks & Recreation Director Amy Mangold, Selectman James Gaston Sr.
Ms Mangold said she is proud and excited for the accomplishment, which she said reflects hard work, generosity and unity.
“When I look around at all of you … I see a slice of all that reflection come together and understand how blessed we are in Newtown,” Ms Mangold said, standing before a crowd of dogs and their humans. “We continue to move forward with strength support and courage to make Newtown a healthy and vibrant community.”
Ms Mangold said, due to the “tough spring,” some finishing touches — including a water-line hook-up for a splash pad, the parking area being paved, and additional engraved bricks for a walkway — will be added to the park in the near future.
“So please, with this opening, if you come to visit and the park is closed temporarily, please know it is temporary and be patient that this is to make the Park and Bark even better than it already is,” said Ms Mangold said.
When Ms Reggiano spoke she admitted she was both nervous and excited for the opening.
“Dreams do come true,” said Ms Reggiano.
For The Dogs
Ms Mangold said is was the summer of 2008 when she attended one of her first Parks & Recreation Commission meetings as director of the town department. A concept for a dog park was presented during that meeting.
“A great goal,” said Ms Mangold, “but one that had to wait its turn in line. We were trying to build a skate park, we were taking over the operations of Eichler’s Beach and Marina, we were designing and planning the replacement of Funspace along with a master plan for Dickinson Park, we were planning a community center, round one, and we were working on the concept of a community garden forming a trails committee, refurbishing a maintenance garage, and putting in an artificial turf field. So it had its wait in line.”
Ms Mangold said that first dog park concept planted a seed, “one that we wanted to grow.”
Canine Training Behavior Services began offering classes around that time, according to Ms Mangold, and those classes have become a success. Ms Mangold credited one Parks & Recreation employee in particulate — Ms Reggiano — for deciding in September 2009 that Newtown’s canine residents, and their owners, are a vital part of the community.
“Again, this one particular individual in our office would get so excited about dog events and activities that I had a grand idea,” said Ms Mangold. “I asked [Ms Reggiano] … if she would like to take the lead in creating a dog park in Newtown. That is when she began to really wag, and wag a lot. She was right on it. She connected with people who signed up at events, she began to advertise for committees, and began monthly meetings.”
The dog park committee still meets, according to Ms Mangold. Ms Mangold said the committed and “amazing volunteers” have made many fundraising events, planning ideas, made the park possible.
“With their continued success it was apparent how important our canine citizens and our humans are,” Ms Mangold said.
Additional support came from George Benson, town director of planning and land use, and Rob Sibley, land use deputy director, Ms Mangold said. Both, she said, were not hesitant to support the idea of the dog park. Local boards and commissions, First Selectman Pat Llodra, town partners, and people who came to all the events, also showed support.
“Everyone was supportive,” said Ms Mangold. “And also the support of the initial funding from the town. But for funding, most of it came from you, the supporters and generous donations…”
Ms Reggiano said the park would not be what it is now without the help of the late Hazel Bouchard and Frances Hair. Ms Hair died in April 2008, and Ms Bouchard died in January 2012. The Board of Selectmen learned in May 2012 that the estates of the two residents, and friends, had left a $2 million bequest that would enable the town to complete construction of a new animal control facility. Their wishes included an infusion of cash, more than $170,000, to complete the dog park.
“Because we originally only had enough money for a fence,” Ms Reggiano said. “So when this endowment came up for the dog park we had happy feet dancing, not only the humans on the dog park committee but our fellow dog friends. Everything that we wished for — our great agility equipment for dogs to play on and more. So we are very excited and we can’t thank [Ms Bouchard and Ms Hair] enough.”
When Mr Gaston spoke he said, “quite candidly if this is what it means to go to the dogs, I’m all for it.”
Pets teach people many things, Mr Gaston said.
“Our dogs teach us loyalty, affection, caring, devotion, and love,” the selectman said. “Our work here for our dogs teaches us something too. It teaches us how to posit an idea, formulate a discussion, from that discussion to create a plan, from that plan to commence a strategy, from that strategy to corroborate, and to collaborate, and to bring that idea to fruition.
“From idea to fruition we learn patience and persistence to dedication, and to the opening of this wonderful park,” he added.
Mr Gaston too acknowledged people who worked to make the park possible.
‘Tail Wagging Dreams’
“I’d like to thank all of you, people who aren’t even here, who supported us from 2009 to today to make this all happen,” Ms Reggiano said. “I know our furry little friends cannot wait to be let off leash and go have some fun, which I’m looking forward to too.”
Moments after Cleo snapped the ribbon for the dog park, wagging tails with humans trailing behind were making their way around the two -acre field on Old Farm Road at the Fairfield Hills campus.
By Monday, May 5, Ms Reggiano said she was still receiving messages on the Newtown Park and Bark Facebook page from people expressing excitement over the dog park. She also said she knows all of the dogs who visit the park are going home with “happy, happy, happy, tail wagging dreams.”
Ms Reggiano also listed major sponsors, including Ms Bouchard and Ms Frances, as Mount Pleast Hospital for Animals, Dr Vali and staff, Canine Training Behavior Services, Peggy Reed, and Patti Fernandes. She also expressed gratitude to PepsiCo for providing refreshments and snacks for the opening event.
The park, Ms Reggiano said is, “an incredible addition to Newtown.”