There is a beautiful equalizing aspect inherent in outdoor recreational activities. Most folks are able to enjoy peaceful communion with nature in public green spaces, including those who are elderly or individuals struggling with physical or mental disabilities. Frequenters of the Alimagnet Dog Park in Burnsville, Minnesota, thought the same ought to be true for the canine members of their community, and in that spirit, they intentionally designed a special area in their park just for dogs with special needs. Eight years later, Alimagnet visitors have seen big returns from just a few modest, yet thoughtful, accommodations.
In 2001, a handful of residents first endeavored to build Alimagnet, armed with a modest $1,900 contribution from the City of Burnsville and a vision of a safe place for their unleashed dogs to exercise and socialize. Alimagnet’s perimeter fence encloses a wide swath of ground for running, natural plantings, tree shade and a small pond where dogs can swim, splash and play. Located on seven acres of rolling countryside about 20 miles south of Minneapolis, Alimagnet boasts several thoughtful amenities including a dog-wash station, a weather shelter, a pond for swimming, free pick-up bags and lights for evening walks. Members of People of Alimagnet Caring for K9s (PACK) saw to the continued upkeep of the park — improvements are funded through a one-time $10 park pass fee paid by visitors — including maintenance, enhancements and community education through its newsletter and onsite events.
News of Alimagnet’s unique atmosphere quickly spread throughout the state, attracting visitors from miles away. With that increased traffic came a lot of feedback, and in 2005, PACK members agreed it was time to turn their attention to a special subset of park guests: those dogs whose physical limitations or behavioral issues might pose a problem when interacting with others. “There were some people who weren’t comfortable with their little dogs being around big dogs, and some senior citizens with more frail dogs who felt it might be dangerous for them if a larger dog was too aggressive…people had concerns,” says Linda Webb, a PACK member since 2012.
Volunteers quickly got to work, erecting a smaller fenced enclosure within the park, complete with its own set of community water bowls, a weather shelter and a less frenetic atmosphere. Park visitors whose canine companions met the special-needs entry criteria — “small, fragile or elderly” — were welcomed into the area, and Webb says the gratitude for such accommodations was almost immediate. “It’s kind of a close community, especially those of us with smaller dogs,” she says. “You see the same people every day, and they’re so glad to have a place where they know (their dogs) will be safe.”
To be sure, Webb and her fellow PACK members were thrilled to see such a positive response from the human contingent of Alimagnet visitors. Perhaps less anticipated was the evolution of disposition and socialization that occurred in the dogs at their side, particularly those with behavioral issues. Alimagnet’s special-needs area quickly became a salvation for dogs that had been abused, raised in puppy mills or spent long sentences in municipal pounds and had the attitude problems to show for it. “A lot of the dogs coming out of rescues or local humane societies, if they have a problem being (placed in a local home), they’re brought to Minnesota,” Webb explains.
“There’s a higher percentage of (dogs with behavioral issues) being adopted here. Lots of these dogs are damaged. They’ve been abused, neglected…they come to the dog park, and we help them learn how to just be a dog — how to play, run and bark, and just have fun and be happy.”
Webb said it’s not unusual to see healthy, smaller-breed dogs happily frolicking next to a larger dog who just months before exhibited desperate signs of aggression, or who recently underwent an intensive surgery. “I’ve seen so many dogs come here who were like little lost souls, and now they’re happy! They can’t wait to come in and play. After you come here a few times, you realize this place is a salvation for a lot of these dogs,” Webb says.
Things seem only to be looking up at Alimagnet, which was recognized as the nation’s third-best off-leash dog park by Dog Fancy Magazine in 2005 and received an associated $10,000 grant from Novartis. Each year, the park’s Dog Days of Summer fundraiser brings in much-needed resources that allow for upgrades like the special-needs dog area, not to mention lots of positive word-of-mouth. “People who don’t even have dogs come to the event to see everyone playing and having fun. We’re making sure to get our little doggie community out there so people know (about Alimagnet),” Webb says.
“I think that’s why I wanted to be on the (PACK) board — coming here has been such a great experience for me and my dogs. Alimagnet is a really great place to go. There are quite a few dog parks in Minnesota, but we have our own little specific area for just the special dogs. That sets us apart.”
To keep abreast of activities at Alimagnet Dog Park or to make a donation, click here.
Sniffing Out Supplies
Below, find a handful of suppliers who trade in various enhancements targeted for dog parks, including agility equipment, pick-up bag stations, benches and more.
Samantha Bartram is the Associate Editor of Parks & Recreation Magazine.