Dog park to be better than expected after $17,000 raised

Field to be enlarged, shelter included

by BETH ALTENA    

DOG GONE GOOD DEAL—A group of residents who wanted a dog park in Rockford were given a year by the City to come up with the money. Apparently they are so good they did it all in one day. Pictured are city officials and organizers for the Happy Hounds Dog Walk with the giant Happy Hounds check.

Happy Hounds Dog Walk organizers knew they were going to meet their goal of raising a minimum of $15,000 for a dog park in Rockford when, on the day of the walk, the registration line extended out the door of the Community Cabin. What they didn’t realize until after the event, was that the Rockford community not only meet but exceeded their expectations with donations totalling  $17,000.

HAPPY HOUNDS—Will enjoy Rockford's dog park, which will be built next spring. The funding came from generous donors and participants at the first Happy Hounds Dog Walk held Halloween weekend in downtown Rockford. Organizers will raise money each year to be split between a human charity and an animal non-profit. This year's funds were dedicated to the dog park.

The group and city officials met for a ceremonial check donation on the site of what will certainly now be a bigger, better dog park than originally expected.

“We did it quicker and raised more money than we expected,” said Emily Weinmann, one of the organizers of both the dog park and Happy Hounds Dog Walk. She was on hand for the donation of a ceremonial  $10,000 check from the Happy Hounds to the dog park on Thursday, December 8.

A first-annual Happy Hounds Walk featured vendors’ booths, breadsticks by Florentine’s Pizzeria and Sports Bar (with all profits donated to the park), a costume contest and a walk through downtown Rockford and the White Pine Trail. The event was wildly successful with over 100 dogs and not a single incident of aggression or misunderstanding between the canines. The goal of $15,000 for the park was not only met
following the one-day event, but surpassed, although there will continue to be other fundraisers for more amenities, such as benches.

“There isn’t another community in this area with a dog park,” Weinmann had stated before City Council earlier in the summer when presenting the pros of the project. “This could be another example of Rockford being a first to set an example.” She noted that it is proven that dogs that socialize with other dogs are better behaved and less likely to bite or be aggressive.

The City had earlier given a group of residents a year to raise an estimated $15,000 for the fencing of an abandoned ball field on City Property on the banks of the Rogue River south of Pickett Park. Originally organizers had proposed the project and asked if the City would consider funding parts of the project. Councilmember Brien Dews objected, saying that in lean times he would prefer not to dedicate taxpayer dollars to the project, although he emphasized that he was in favor of the use.

Dews said he found it of concern that proponents of a skate park somewhere in downtown Rockford—and location has remained a sticking point in the development of such a facility—has been brought up repeatedly over the  years but never acted upon. He said he was unsettling to him that a new park concept was about to be favorably voted upon without giving organizers a chance to attempt funding without city subsidy.

Dog fan Tom VanerSloot had proposed a Happy Hounds Dog Walk to other non-profits on prior occasions, pitched his fundraiser to the dog park organizers, and with help in a short amount of time, put together the first annual event on  Saturday, October 29. VanderSloot had heard of  a similar annual event on the west coast which raises money for both an animal-related non-profit and a human-related one. He was sure in a dog-loving town like Rockford, it would do well.

Volunteers Weinmann and Jennifer Etchison embraced the dog walk idea and hit the ground running to make it a reality. With only a short time to organize the event, they worked hard to reaching out to sponsors, vendors, find suppliers, create t-shirts, decorations, stuff bags for participants, organize food, beverages and find a pop-corn machine, arrange a raffle including soliciting donations, recruit volunteers, create a layout for vendors on the site of the walk, which was staged on the grounds of the Community Cabin, recruit entertainment and demonstrations, find volunteers for photography and advertising, maintaining the group’s Facebook page, organize delivery of supplies and, after the event, cleaning up.

Attorney services for establishing the dog park group as a non-profit was donated by Neil Blakeslee. After the huge amount of work, the day of the walk dawned drizzling, but became bright and sunny as things got started.

The first Happy Hounds  walk went off without a hitch with over 100 dogs in attendance, many sporting Halloween costumes. Businesses, such as Huyer Luv Kennel and Groomers, Rockford Animal Hospital and Chow  Hound each pledged $3,500. Chases Corner
Kennel pitched in$500 and Well Pet and Invisible Fence also donated to tune of $250. After the walk support for the dog park remained strong and Blakeslee and Son Plumbing Heating and Cooling offered to install water to the park free of charge, Morton Builders is donating a shelter for the facility and Wolverine World  Wide Foundation pitched in as well.

“With the money we have we will be able to expand the size of the park,” said Weinmann. A brushy grown over area north of the ball field will be cleared and included  in the fenced dog park.

Organizer Jennifer Etchinson said once the Happy Hounds had secured the base funding for the park, more donations came in, bringing the total for the park to the whopping $17,000. “We are so appreciative of all the support for the park we’ve had from this community,” she said. “Once the ball was rolling, it was all positive.” She said she is grateful to residents as well as the City of Rockford.

The first Happy Hounds  walk went off without a hitch with over 100 dogs in attendance, many sporting Halloween costumes, and the event was able to raise over $10,000 for the dog park. Businesses, such as Huyer Luv Kennel and Groomers, Rockford Animal Hospital and Chow  Hound each pledged $3,500. Chases CornerKennel pitched in$500 and Well Pet and Invisible Fence also donated to tune of $250. After the walk support for the dog park remained strong and Blakeslee and Son Plumbing Heating and Cooling offered to install water to the park free of charge, Morton Builders is donating a shelter for the facility and Wolverine World  Wide Foundation pitched in as well.

“With the money we have we will be able to expand the size of the park,” said Weinmann. A brushy grown over area north of the ball field will be cleared and included  in the fenced dog park.

Organizer Jennifer Etchinson said once the Happy Hounds had secured the base funding for the park, more donations came in, bringing the total for the park to the whopping $17,000. “We are so appreciative of all the support for the park we’ve had from this  community,” she said. “Once the ball was rolling, it was all positive.” She said she is grateful to residents as well as the City of Rockford.

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