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Michelle's column: Friendly visits at the dog park

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My 5-year-old niece and nephew were pretty jealous when, last weekend, I talked about taking my little dog, Rissa, to the dog park one afternoon.

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“Um, Michelle?” said Joe, “I would like to go to the park with you.”

“Can we both come?” his twin sister, Emma, asked.

“Sorry, you guys,” I said. “I’m taking Rissa to a park for dogs, and I don’t have enough room in my back seat for Rissa and both of you.”

My reply was followed by a disappointed, “Aww!” in unison.

They kind of don’t understand what the dog park thing is all about yet. They thought I was talking about the park across the street from gramma and grandpa’s house. I had to explain to them that there’s a special park a little ways away that is just for dogs to play with each other.

Emma was perplexed by this idea. “You mean there isn’t any swings?” she asked. “That doesn’t sound like a very fun park.”

But Rissa, my little collie/rat terrier mix, loves the Dakota Woods Dog Park off of County Road 46 in Empire Township.

Rissa is no stranger to dog parks. There were three we could go to when we lived in St. Paul. One of them was particularly close to our home, and every time my car turned right onto Maryland Avenue, Riss seemed to know just where we were going, and we couldn’t get there fast enough for her liking.

Area dog parks were one of the first things I checked into when we moved to Hastings. Although we do lots of walking in our neighborhood and on the trails, Riss needs to be able to be off her leash and run free every so often. She needs to be around other dogs, to be able to run and jump and play, and yes, even sniff the other dogs.

She needs to have some little dog friends. She loves to run, and she loves to be chased by other dogs. I’m pretty sure that’s because most of the time, the other dogs can’t catch her. She’s a fast little bugger.

I pass the Dakota Woods Dog Park on my way to and from work every day. So one morning, Riss and I went over to check it out. This was December, before the really-cold cold hit the area. We got out of the car, she realized where she was, and she couldn’t get inside the gates fast enough.

We went two times before I decided it was silly to pay the $5 fee for each visit when I could get a year-round pass for just over $40. I got the pass lined up, and now we can come and go as much as we please.

Riss couldn’t be happier.

And I enjoy taking her there, too.

It’s a funny thing about dog owners at the dog park. By and large, we seem to be as friendly as our dogs. We don’t take the time to smell each other’s bottoms, but so far, I’ve really enjoyed taking Rissa to the local dog park.

I’ve met a few really nice people while walking around the dog park. Somehow, you seem to fall into step and start visiting when your dogs are chasing each other in giant circles. Another hot topic of conversation lately has been whether we remembered a towel to dry off our dogs, or a blanket for the back seat. For the record, I have my blanket down, but I keep forgetting the towels.

It might be kind of idle small talk, but it’s comfortable. I’ve met people who have lived in the area for years, a gal who just moved to Apple Valley and a couple who took their dog to the same park we visited most often in St. Paul. It’s comfortable, and it’s friendly.

What’s more, it’s a nice transition for me, as I’m still adjusting to life south of the river again. It’s nice to have a place to go where Riss and I both are having fun. And it’s really nice to just be outside on a sunny day, and visit with friendly people.

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Michelle Leonard
Michelle Leonard started covering the Farmington community in June, 1994. Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the Farmington American Legion Auxiliary Unit 189, and acts as the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 
(651) 460-6606
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