Dogs Run Free at Off-Leash Dog Area
The park offers an ideal location to spend a sunny afternoon, thanks to its social atmosphere for dogs and their owners.
It can cure the soul, it can make it whole, If dogs run free. – Bob Dylan, "If Dogs Run Free"
“I bring Georgie so I can get quiet evenings,” Lynn Markowitz of West Bloomfield said about the Off-Leash Dog Area (OLDA) of West Bloomfield. “Georgie really requires a lot of exercise, and this is great way to do it.”
While she is talking, Georgie — a 3½-year-old Bouvier des Flandres — is sitting in the middle of a mud puddle just a bit larger than he is. Markowitz doesn’t seem to mind. After all, the dog park is about letting dogs be dogs, and Georgie is clearly enjoying himself.
There are more than 300 members of OLDA, which is located at Karner Farm off a dirt stretch of Halsted Road, north of Maple Road. The three-acre, fenced-in park was established about eight years ago and is going strong with a loyal following and new members joining anually.
For the $30 annual fee, members may bring up to three dogs year-round. They receive a fob that opens the electronic gate, where there are dispensers for hand sanitizer and “poop bags,” benches and running water in the summer. There is even a portable toilet, which is shared with the adjacent West Bloomfield Community Farm.
OLDA has two sections: The larger one is for all dogs to act out as they wish, and the smaller one is for shy or older dogs, and their owners, who don’t want to be as social or active.
“It’s one of those trends that didn’t go away,” said Marylynn Balewski, West Bloomfield Township’s recreation coordinator and a dog owner, who manages OLDA. “People asked for it, but when we started it, we weren’t sure people would want to drive to a park for their pets. But it’s like your kids — if they want to go, you take them.”
But it’s not just for the dogs. The owners enjoy it, not just for their dog’s sake but for themselves, too.
“For me, it’s a nice change of pace from the madness of this world,” Markowitz said.
Debby Portney and Dezzie, her 5-year-old Bernese mountain dog, have been coming to park since Dezzie was a puppy. Both are big fans of the park.
“He loves it,” Portney said. “He enjoys being off the leash, running around and seeing the other dogs. It’s fun for me, too. Out at the park, you get to watch ‘real’ dog behavior, and that’s fun.”
Just like cute babies catch the eye before their parents do, most parkgoers get acquainted with the dogs first and owners later — after all, the dogs often run to the gate to welcome, and sniff, new arrivals.
“It’s fun for me to socialize, too,” Portney said. “There are different groups who meet a certain times. There is the 3 o’clock crowd, and there is the 4 o’clock crowd, for example.”
“It’s sort of like a little kid’s play group, but for dogs,” she continued. “I’ve also learned a little about all kinds of dogs. I get advice, hear about products and about what the other owners are doing with their dogs. The park is a great thing to have. We’re very happy with it.”
Though they joined the park only two weeks ago, standard poodles Emma and Charlie are already running with the pack. Their owner, Patricia Hartwig, used to take them to the Lake Orion Dog Park, but she tired of the 18-mile round trip from her West Bloomfield home.
“We were dying to find something closer, and it’s going to be perfect,” Hartwig said. “They’re like racehorses running around here.” Hartwig said she is eager to see the park in full bloom and learn whether herons come to the old trees outside of the park’s fence.
“It’s not a really high-maintenance issue,” Balewski said of the park. “People pretty much self-police it themselves,” which means they watch their dogs so they can clean up after them and remove them if they aren’t playing nicely.
The township recently planted some new trees, reinforced the fencing around the park and will soon be reseeding both sides, meaning that one side or the other will be closed for about three to four weeks.
For information on OLDA from West Bloomfield Parks and Recreation, follow these links: