PHOTOS: Marco's dog park formally unleashed

— It rained cats and dogs at the grand opening of Canine Cove, but the dogs didn’t mind at all.

The ceremony held at the new off-leash dog park within Mackle Park marked the culmination of a years-long effort. Politicking, planning and an intensive fund-raising campaign paid off as Councilman Jerry Gibson wielded the scissors for a ceremonial “leash cutting” Saturday morning.

The damp weather meant that only the dedicated were at the dedication, but even so, dozens showed up under umbrellas, raincoats and two large canopies, many with their dogs. Parks and Recreation director Bryan Milk welcomed the attendees, and recognized Cassie Sullivan, a third grader at Tommie Barfield Elementary, who won the contest to name the new facility. Her efforts also won her a gift certificate to McDonald’s and a pizza party for her class.

Deborah Chapman, head of the Friends of Canine Cove, thanked her “dream team,” led by Kathy Keeling and Jan Temkiewicz, who helped raise $52,000 in four off-season months to open the park without any expenditure of tax dollars.

Temkiewicz reported that the goal of $40,000 was exceeded and despite earlier reports in the Eagle, Friends of Canine Cove is not a non-profit organization, as mentioned in earlier reports. “Nonprofit contributions to the park were possible because all donations were made out to the city, not Canine Cove,” she said.

Councilman Gibson stole the show with his emotional address, choking up as he related how his wife, since deceased, was a strong supporter of the off-leash park concept. When he contemplated running for City Council, he said, she told him, “‘you can run — if we get a dog park.’ It’s personal for me.

“We’re here to celebrate more than a park,” he added, saying Canine Cove represents a sense of community for Marco Island. Gibson also read a poem written, he said, by one of his dogs.

His two Italian mastiffs, Dolce and Fiora, took full advantage of the park, bounding around in the area fenced off for large dogs, with a remarkably well-behaved group of four-legged companions, including retrievers, setters, bulldogs, and at least one great Dane.

The “Waggin’ Wall of Fame,” a placard inscribed with the names of over 100 contributors and offering them “a big lick and a wag,” was displayed under the rain shelter. The Canine Cove Rock, a limestone boulder with a dog bone-shaped sign and three bronze plaques honoring the prime movers in creating the park, was unveiled.

Those honored included Rob and Donna Reiley, of Marco Island and Otter Lake, N.Y., who contributed $10,000 to Canine Cove, in memory of their aunt, Catharine C. Reiley. They came to be part of the celebration, but their wire-haired fox terrier, Mabbie, stayed in the car because of the rain.

“My aunt was a great lover of all, and particularly dogs,” said Rob Reiley. “She started a foundation for the welfare of animals, she bred poodles, and she had an obedience school.”

He was glad they were able to help on her behalf, he said.

“I think this is a great place to let your dog socialize,” said Elliott Delman of Marco Island, accompanied by his wife Meredith and Mendel, their golden retriever puppy. “Dogs need to be around other dogs. It breeds a good attitude.”

“The dog park is great,” agreed Islander Barbara Johnson. “I’ve been fighting for this. Animals add such a wonderful dimension.”

Before the ceremonies ended, the rain had let up, dogs were romping, Frisbees were flung, and the question “who let the dogs out” had an answer and a happy ending.

Staff reporter Kelly Farrell contributed to this report.

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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