MARCO ISLAND — Most say Marco’s dog park, Canine Cove, is a tail-wagging experience for dogs and people. While there’s no big stink about it, visitors aren’t always following the rules in the venue that opened in December last year.
Some pet owners going to the off-leash dog runs in Mackle Park don’t clean up their dogs’ poop; small and large dogs aren’t always in their designated areas; some people don’t know where to park and, on most days, you’ll see a dog walker with as many as five dogs, significantly exceeding the two-dogs-per-person rule.
Ginger Schoen, of Hideaway Beach, frequents the park with her standard poodles, while her friend Pat Sawin, a part-time Marco and Northern Michigan resident comes with her Irish setter named Caitlin. The women agree that people don’t always pick up after their dogs.
“Sometimes somebody else will have to go and pick up after them. That’s what happened today,” said Schoen, adding that a friend of hers picked up after someone else’s dog.
If it weren’t for dog owners policing themselves, the fine would be $500.
“I hope people don’t mess it up for everyone else by being irresponsible,” said Schoen.
Sawin once believed it was OK to park along Balboa Street near the dog runs. However, after seeing a sign posted on the street reading “no parking,” she now parks in the Mackle Park parking lot.
“That’s the only complaint I would have, is the parking is too far,” said Sawin.
Kim Peet of Marco describes Balboa Street as “the half-way parking thing.”
The small street has one home and one undeveloped lot and is located about half way between Canine Cove and the Mackle Park parking lot, where Police Chief Thom Carr says is likely the most appropriate place to park.
The undeveloped lot is surrounded by “No trespassing” signs and yellow tape.
Robert Madonna lives in the one home on the road, directly across the street from the vacant lot. He hasn’t formally complained to officials, but parking is getting out of control in front of his home.
“You’re here to walk your dog. Why not park in the lot and walk your dog?” he asked rhetorically.
As for the stink, he says he’s waiting for the hot summer breezes to cause a problem.
Madonna said he didn’t complain to officials about parking because he figured they’d see the problems and address it.
He said the “no parking” sign was posted early in January, but he’s not confident it will help.
Instead, tickets and warnings from police may be the best deterrent, Madonna said.
“There have been 20 cars out here at a time. There are days I’ve almost hit cars coming out of my driveway.”
However, Marco Code Enforcement Officer Liz Carr said parking enforcement isn’t much of an issue, because people can legally park in the swale, the lawn area between the yellow tape and the road’s pavement, except between 2 and 6 a.m.
Parking on the street is prohibited, but not a common problem, Carr reported.
Parks and Recreation Director Bryan Milk and other park personnel haven’t commented on the park or rules.
Peet prefers the parking lot because the fraction of a mile walk gives the dogs time to wear off their excitement while also “going to the bathroom” before they enter the fenced dog runs and are running around off-leash, where it could be tricky to keep up with them.
No matter what, Canine Cove is a needed outlet since she can’t take her small dog Fred to the beach unless they go all the way to the dog beach in Bonita, she adds.
Socialization isn’t just for the dogs, either.
Peet comes to the dog park daily.
“It’s such a great icebreaker. People, who you saw at the grocery store, who you wouldn’t probably talk to, you get to know here,” she said.
Chip McCormick frequents the dog run about five times a week with his yellow Labrador retriever named Chance.
“I’m the evening, after-work crowd … This is what I call my social life, but it’s just nice for the dogs to get out,” McCormick said.
Chance used to go about 30 miles to Rover Run in North Naples for exercise, and because of the trek, he wasn’t getting out much before Canine Cove opened.
“(Chance) lost eight pounds and we’re working on losing 20 (pounds),” McCormick said.
As for the dog fights that opponents of the park once warned about — no one is reporting any.
“There’s always going to be scrapping (among the dogs) but nothing serious … The dogs work it out themselves, or with their owners.”
Rob Lukowski, his wife and five children were visiting Marco for three weeks from Lancaster, Penn., deciding to bring their two dogs for the first time because they heard about the new dog park.
Rob’s wife, Wendy Lukowski, stayed on the small dog side with their Yorkie (Yorkshire terrier) named Mia, while Rob stayed mostly with Titan, the labradoodle. The kids went back and forth between the two, frequently running to the doggy drinking fountain to push the button and watch all the dogs come running for a drink. Once the dogs had their fill, the children would play catch with any willing dog.
“This is something Marco needed. Just look at the community here,” Rob Lukowski said as he panned an afternoon crowd of about 25 dogs and their owners.
Sue Darrow of Marco said her small coton named Louie likes to hang out with the big dogs even though there is a separate area for dogs his size. No one seems to mind.
“This is the best thing to happen to Marco since I can remember,” said Darrow.