All dogs deserve a chance to run. It’s good for their health and spirit. But many urban hounds today do not have the space at home to get a daily run and need a nearby park with an off-leash dog area. Despite the large number of dogs in Pierce County, there was no such place within the county until SUNDogs was formed.

Started in 2007, SUNDogs (Safe, Unleashed, and Natural Dogs) was founded by a group of passionate dog owners to make their dreams of an off-leash dog park a reality. The first president and one of the founders was Rod Giffells, well known in the community for his real estate work and for his love of wildlife photography. Sadly, he passed away in January 2015. Debby Klosowski was another founding member and is now the current secretary and vice president for the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The team was perhaps unaware in the beginning of just how much work lay ahead.

“I joined along with several other dog lovers who exercised our dogs on the school playground when we were able,” says Bill Long, current president of SUNDogs. “We joined to bring attention to the plight of local dog owners in finding a nearby place to exercise our dogs and to encourage the community to include an off-leash area in what at that time was the newly developed Chambers Creek Properties.”

SUNDogs of Pierce County
Dog parks, like the one at Chambers Bay, gives dogs a chance to be dogs – including splashing the mud like this lovely Labrador, Charlie. Photo credit: SUNDogs & Layla and me Photography

The original plan was a seven acre, off-leash dog park at Chambers Creek Regional Park. Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg helped the group secure the space, but only procured just under an acre.

Their work had just begun.

“We raised $16,000 for the fence and a bench, along with doggie bag dispensers in the park,” Long explains. “Another bench was donated by New Tacoma Cemeteries. We opened the first park in July of 2009.” They also obtained off leash permission for the south beach area when the bridge to the beach was opened.

The group raised the funds with all kinds of events that organized and run by volunteers, including Pups in the Park, dog washes and their annual Santa Paws pet pictures. Donations came from over 300 families in the area. It was clear a dog park was something many wanted.

SUNDogs of Pierce County
Their annual Santa Paws fundraiser helps with the upkeep and expansions to the park that all dog owners benefit from. Photo credit: SUNDogs & Layla and me Photography

An Agility Course of Obstacles

But things were not going to be easy. The U.S. Open was held at Chambers Bay in March of 2015, requiring the fence to be removed. The dog park was re-opened in April of 2016 after the USGA had repaired it back to the way it was before the golf tournament.

The park still remained under an acre in size. “Our members have always wanted a larger area and a separate area for less active dogs. However, we were always denied further expansion,” Long says.

With dogged determination, they continued to pull on the leash to get things done.

Making Tracks

SUNDogs of Pierce County
This map shows the expansion to make way for the “Small, Shy, and Senior Dog” area – and all the room to continue expanding. Photo credit: SUNDogs

Finally, after years of work, things have started to move forward like a dog following a scent. In 2016, SUNDogs was able to add a half-acre to the park to create the “Small, Shy, and Senior Dog” area. “We raised another $14,000 for that fencing,” adds Long.

Marching onward, they continue to set their sights on that original seven acres. “We participated in the recent Chambers Bay Master site planning, which ultimately calls for a seven acre dog park in the southern portion which is currently undeveloped,” Long explains.

The group also donates $800 in doggy bags each year to make sure owners pick up after their dogs. Members volunteer their time to pick up after those who do not, in order to keep the park clean. “We are dedicated to ensuring that our canine friends have a safe, well maintained area to exercise; to providing socialization among humans and dogs; and to educating the public and owners about responsible pet ownership,” states Long.

SUNDogs of Pierce County
A group of the SUNDogs celebrate after their expansion was approved by Pierce County last April. Included in this picture are: Dotty Vowell Jackl, Kathy Makenas, Bill Long, and Rise Windell. Photo credit: SUNDogs & Layla and me Photography

Part of this includes making sure dogs who are playing hard have water. SUNDOGs members refill the water jugs that sit in the park – but, thanks to a grant from PetSafe, they are hoping to soon have running water.

PetSafe received over 200 applications for their Bark for Your Park program to create more off-leash dog parks around the county. SUNDogs was chosen for a $10,000 grant. Justin Young, a marketing specialist for the PetSafe team, says they were chosen because “they recognized the need for off-leash areas in 2005. Since then, their work has resulted in a dedicated space for the thousands of people and pets that visit Pierce County’s Chambers Creek Regional Park each year. PetSafe is proud to support SUNDogs in the organization’s efforts to provide a water source in the park as they expand and improve the park.”

SUNDogs will be using the money to install faucets inside both areas at the off-leash dog park. They are currently working with county staff on bids and hope to have faucets in place at the end of October.

SUNDogs of Pierce County
Holly was Billy Long’s beautiful yellow Labrador Retriever who passed away from Kidney Failure this last summer. Photo credit: Bill Long

SUNDogs has a member fee of $10 per family. They are currently 299 members strong, and they are a loyal bunch. Long says almost every original member still belongs, unless they have passed away.  In fact, Long is still president and very active, even though he is currently dog-less. He lost his best friend Holly, a beautiful Labrador Retriever, in June to kidney failure. She was 14 years old.

The group will continue to work toward expanding the park and doing all they can to keep the dogs of Pierce County tail wagging happy.

Learn more about the off-leash dog park project, including how to join, by visiting the SUNDogs website or following them on Facebook.

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