Accidents, other factors make dog park idea attractive

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Lucas Kotschwar is to be commended for his effort to turn a close call for himself and the tragic loss of his dog into something positive.

Kotschwar risked his own life to try to save his dog after it fell through thin ice in Barnett Park. The McCook Fire Department used a ladder truck to try to rescue the dog, but it was too late.

Now, Kotschwar is trying to raise enough money to buy at least one ice rescue suit and other equipment to be used in similar situations.

There have been four similar incidents over the past 20 years, according to Fire Chief Marc Harpham, three of them due to pets on ice.

One of them, 13 years ago today, claimed the life of Scott Hoffman, a former Gazette city editor who was on the staff of Sen. Ben Nelson at the time.

City statutes require dogs to be on leashes while in city parks, and loose dogs, wild geese and thin ice are a dangerous combination anywhere.

But anyone who owns a large dog knows they need to be exercised on a regular basis, and not everyone has access to open fields to make that possible.

One solution is already in the pipeline, but hasn't been given the support needed to bring it to reality.

In 2009, the Burns family donated property at East 11th and C Street, in memory of Dr. Lawrence T. Burns, DPM, for use as a leash-free dog park.

At the time, the City Council balked at the $15,000 it would have cost to fence in the property, along with another $20,000 for a feral cat program, and didn't provide the funding.

For a time, it looked like fencing from the airport might be repurposed to surround the property, but that didn't turn out to be a practical solution.

Asked about the project earlier this year, city officials noted nothing was included in the budget.

Whether a leash-free dog park would be practical remains an open question. It would require manpower to maintain and police, and without responsible pet owners, could easily turn into a headache for all involved.

It would require funding that would have to be pulled from other city budget areas or raised from new sources.

Would pet owners, for instance, agree to pay dog licensing fees with the money going to maintain the dog park, and pay an animal control officer?

It's a question worth asking.

In light of the Barnett Park accidents, however, along with the Chamber of Commerce goal of making McCook "a better place to live, work and play," a dog park seems like a good project to pursue.

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