Craig Hlavaty: Older dogs need dog parks, too | #specialneeds | #kids


For new friends Sophie, Kirksey, Anna, and Little girl, it was just another funday Sunday at the Ida Reed Dog Park on March 22, 2020.

Photo: Fran Ruchalski/The Enterprise

Dog parks are wondrous inventions, full of good boys and good girls frolicking, smelling, licking, and expending extra energy. Humans meeting other humans, bonding over breeds and leashes, flirting being optional if they ever look up from their phones. .

But when you have a senior or special needs doggo, more prone to shuffling or hopping, mainstream dog parks aren’t so much fun. There is no slow lane. My elderly pup and I used to love visiting those parks, but as he has rapidly aged and gone blind, parks are scary for both of us. The last few visits at our once-favorite haunts, he huddled near me and waited for the visit to be over. Other owners with faster, youthful friends look over at the geriatric gingerly trudging through the grass and politely smile. There are parks built for specifically smaller pets, but the same problems remain.

To partially paraphrase Marvin Zindler, it’s hell to be old.

I say it’s time for someone to build a destination for our seniors and special needs buddies. Imagine a place with soft, fluffy grass and plenty of shade, where pups with grays surrounding their smiles and cloudy eyes can walk three feet and collapse in a heap of skin and slobber. Where limps, laziness and sad/funny pratfalls come to be expected. I cannot stress enough how fluffy the grass will be.

As it turns out, I am not the only one with this idea.

Nathan Rao is also a fan of seniors, caring for many in their twilight years. He’s long thought about opening a daycare that caters to them, including a dedicated park. He owns Wag’n World, located in Montrose near West Gray, one of the most popular canine day cares in the area.

“If I were to open a park for seniors, age restrictions would need to be put in place for at least eight years and up,” Rao said. “Guidance would have to be strict as to make sure other seniors don’t harm others with disabilities.”

With Houston sweltering a great deal of the year, water pads and low-lying water features would be ideal. Rao notes that most dog parks only have one or two paltry drinking water stations. Adequate shade would be a must for pets and owners alike.

“Older dogs love to bask in the sun,” he said. “Several places to sit on the ground with your pup and others would be great. We all know seniors love attention.”

A park geared toward seniors and those with mobility issues would also need modified walkways.

“Instead of rocks, pebbles or concrete, rubberized walkways so seniors can grip without slipping when wet and will be cool to the touch when the sun is blistering would be a necessity,” said Rao. “I personally love turf because it can stay clean with proper cleaning.”

Houstonian Kristen Smith is a fellow senior pup parent and will soon relaunch her Shaggy Chic specialty pet care business. Her mini schnauzer Kingston is 14 years old, epileptic, and has degenerative disc disease. She usually pushes him around in a stroller these days so he can get sunshine and feel the wind blow through his ears. Smith’s soft spot has always been with the unique, quirky, and elderly pups.

Socializing is crucial for seniors, Smith said.

“It can spark new life, reinvigorate them, and yes, even teach them new tricks,” she said. “Their enrichment and socializing may look different, but they would benefit significantly.”

She’s seen so many furry clients pass across the hallowed Rainbow Bridge, that mythical pathway we dog lovers have created to make the transition to the other side of life a little easier for those of us left behind.

Even the notion of a senior park is bittersweet, signifying the all-too-brief brief but impactful lives they share with us. Parks like these would be just as beneficial for the owners as the pups, offering each a gift as those precious last years of companionship tick away.

Craig Hlavaty is a Houston-based writer. craig.hlavaty@gmail.com




  • Craig Hlavaty

    Craig Hlavaty is a freelance writer for chron.com and the Houston Chronicle.



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