Seven years ago, businessman Bill Boecker advised the city to get its adoptable animals in the public eye — a move that led to the opening of two city-owned adoption centers in PetSmart locations.
More recently, when he heard the city was planning to build its second dog park, at North Z Boaz Park west of downtown, Boecker recognized the potential for it to be more than just a place to go for dog lovers to socialize their pooches.
Now he is helping to turn Fort Worth’s new dog park into a drive-by adoption venue where people can learn about being responsible owners.
“It is a dog park and it is there for people and their animals to have a good time,” said Boecker, a volunteer at Fort Worth’s animal shelter and a board member of the Humane Society of North Texas. “But it is also a way to bring people together and programs together that will be greatly enhanced by an anchor of that nature.”
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The 10-acre, $1.48 million park — which will also feature obstacle courses, play areas and swimming holes — is expected to open in August with the aid of hefty private donations.
Fort Worth’s other dog park, Fort Woof, is at Gateway Park, east of downtown.
The vision is for the new park to be an “anchor” for nonprofits and animal-welfare groups, a place where they can set up mobile adoption units, provide spay-and-neuter programs and low-cost vaccinations, and offer pet education, said Brandon Bennett, the city’s code compliance director.
“There will be a natural attraction there. If we are going to reach our goal of being the most pet-friendly city in America, we have to create venues that bring pets and people together on an ongoing basis,” Bennett said.
The park’s forward-thinking plan is playing into the city’s application for a $2 million grant from PetSmart Charities that would enable the city to hire an executive director to coordinate Fort Worth’s animal-welfare groups to work as one unit.
“The common denominator is we all have a heart and we all love animals. How you actually go out and get the community to love the animals more is where you start getting the competition, because there is a limited number of resources — money, volunteers,” Bennett said. “What the coalition does is enables us to bring focus.”
Understanding the market
In 2008, Fort Worth euthanized about 70 percent of the animals that entered the city shelter, with the rest rescued or adopted.
“We looked at that, and we said we could do a better job. But we knew we couldn’t do it alone,” Bennett said. “We are government; we are not private enterprise. So we needed some help.”
Boecker, president and CEO of Fine Line Diversified Development, was enlisted to help increase the adoption rate at the Chuck Silcox Animal Care & Control Center off Martin Street in the far southwest corner of the city — next to several freight lines and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice office.
Boecker said the first idea was to build an adoption center near the shelter.
“But as we started to study it, it seemed we needed to be closer to the market base,” Boecker said.
Boecker then helped coordinate Fort Worth’s current partnership with PetSmart Charities, which resulted in adoption centers opening inside PetSmart locations, in 2010 near Hulen Mall and in 2011 at Alliance Town Center in far north Fort Worth. The first-of-its-kind joint-ownership pet adoption center served as a model for other PetSmarts in the U.S.
Next came the plan to raise $1 million to build a medical treatment ward at the animal shelter. The ward, which opened last year, treats animals that would otherwise have been euthanized. The city’s live-release rate, which includes adoptions, owner reclaims and rescues, is now above 80 percent.
Now comes the new dog park, a fresh marketing approach to the doggy-loving, kitty-cat-doting crowd.
“It is kind of like a mall,” Bennett said. “Just like a mall would bring diverse people to the shops, we are looking at ways to bring a diverse crowd to the park.”
The new dog park will be state-of-the-art, said Judy Needham, fundraising consultant on the project for the city’s parks department.
Initial funding came from the city — $500,000 from the 2014 bond program and $137,000 from gas revenue — to provide infrastructure and build a large parking lot for the entire 138-acre park, which extends from Camp Bowie West Boulevard north to Calmont Avenue just south of Interstate 30.
The master plan for the park — which was home to the Z Boaz Golf Course for more than 80 years before it was closed in 2012 — calls for soccer fields, outdoor basketball courts, open play spaces and a wildflower area.
But for some people, Z Boaz’s crown jewel will be the dog park, which is getting a big boost from private and in-kind donations.
Needham said fundraising is about halfway to its $847,000 goal, with the Amon G. Carter Foundation, the Ryan Foundation, the Molyneaux Charitable Foundation and the Community Foundation of North Texas topping the list of big donors. In-kind donations have included architect plans and engineering designs.
The first phase of the park will include a 7-acre off-leash play area for large breeds and a 3-acre zone for small breeds. Both areas will be irrigated and will have water stations and swimming ponds for the pooches, said Scott Penn, district superintendent for the parks department.
Future phases will include park benches, shaded pavilions, agility equipment, vending machines, stone columns and wash areas. Those additions will depend on how fast the private money is raised, Penn said.
Needham said, “A dog park, if you do it right, I don’t know that it is ever finished.”
Caty Hirst, 817-390-7984
Direct questions about donating to the dog park to Judy Needham at firstname.lastname@example.org or 817-223-0552.