PERSONAL JOURNEY: Local woman creates SMART Dog Parks

Beth Miller from Centerville has created a new certification program for those interested in creating community dog parks. Her SMART Dog Parks 30 day program is designed to provide people with the tools they need to build dog parks that enhance their communities and are safe and accessible

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Beth Miller from Centerville has created a new certification program for those interested in creating community dog parks. Her SMART Dog Parks 30 day program is designed to provide people with the tools they need to build dog parks that enhance their communities and are safe and accessible

Beth Miller helps communities be more dog friendly.

Pet ownership is exploding in this country. During the COVID-19 pandemic, petownership skyrocketed with about one out of every five people welcoming a dog or cat to their families, according to a study by ASPCA (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).

It’s no surprise that Americans now look at their dogs as family members and want the best for them. From designer food to fancy furniture, the family dog is often treated like royalty.

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Except when it comes to dog parks.

Beth Miller of Centerville hopes to change that. After founding Wagtown, Inc. several years ago, Miller has been on a mission to help communities become more dog friendly. Her latest project is SMART Dog Park™, a professional certification program she created to help educate communities about how to build and maintain better dog parks.

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Miller in her back yard in Centerville with her foster service dog, Cesto. She says all dogs, from service dogs to the family pet, deserve safe dog park experiences and that these parks are also great boosts to the local economies.

Miller in her back yard in Centerville with her foster service dog, Cesto. She says all dogs, from service dogs to the family pet, deserve safe dog park experiences and that these parks are also great boosts to the local economies.

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Miller in her back yard in Centerville with her foster service dog, Cesto. She says all dogs, from service dogs to the family pet, deserve safe dog park experiences and that these parks are also great boosts to the local economies.

“The term ‘dog friendly’ is extremely overused and too often is a letdown,” Miller said. “Communities put it out there to attract people because it’s been proven that dollars follow dogs.”

But according to Miller there is precious little regulation and often the dogs themselves are at the bottom of the priority list. Ironic since indulging our dogs has become a great American pastime.

“We have gone from just owning a dog to the dog is my child,” Miller said. “For some people, dogs are soulmates. They dress them up, cook their meals, throw them birthday parties and even create their own social media accounts!”

Dog parks- usually fenced areas where dogs can interact with other dogs off leash - have been popping up around the country for years. People looking for ways to give their dogs both physical and mental enrichment flock to them. But as Miller did her research, she found that dog parks are often hastily created on land that no one wants that isn’t easily accessible. And there are few regulations or rules, which could end up being dangerous for the dogs and their owners.

“A parks and recreation professional friend of mine was working on a trends story for this year, and he called me to ask about dog parks,” Miller said. “He was actually looking at dogs as taxpayers.”

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This is because dog parks have become integral to Americans’ leisure and mental health. And unfortunately, Miller found that 77% of communities never created a plan to build their dog parks and, instead, “learn as they go.” And most parks and recreation departments, which end up creating and managing the majority of community dog parks, don’t have the staff to maintain them properly.

After talking to more than 600 people, Miller began work on her SMART Dog Park certification program – designed to provide a master plan for the parks and to train people on how to create them with an emphasis on Safety, Manners, Awareness, Responsibility and Training (SMART).

“There wasn’t one place for people to call to find out more about dog parks,” Miller said. “We regulate every playground in this country, but dog parks have been after thoughts.”

SMART Dog Parks is a 30-day professional certification course that includes short videos, handbooks and templates. And most importantly, the program connects people with others from all over the country who have been successful creating and sustaining dog parks in their communities.

“The program walks people through a deliberate process,” Miller said. “People from everywhere are now discussing things like water quality and other safety issues with others who have the same concerns.”

Miller officially launched SMART Dog Parks on February 9 at the Ohio Parks and Recreation Association conference, where she spoke to attendees about what makes a great dog park. She says that dog parks should not only be immaculately maintained, but also give owners a “chalet experience” with areas for sitting and socializing. She shared examples of great dog parks with play features, wash areas and even dog vending machines.

“My hope was to fill the seats in the founding member class,” Miller said. “We sold out and now we have sponsors!”

Turns out the majority of the problems with most dog parks is human involvement. Without the attention to details like water supply, topography and even waste management, parks like these become unsafe for both canine and human.

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Beth Miller of Centerville is shown in Central Park in New York City, where she visited "The Hill" dog park to talk with dog owners about their experiences. Miller (center in black) interviewed more than 600 professionals and dog owners before creating her professional program.

Beth Miller of Centerville is shown in Central Park in New York City, where she visited "The Hill" dog park to talk with dog owners about their experiences. Miller (center in black) interviewed more than 600 professionals and dog owners before creating her professional program.

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Beth Miller of Centerville is shown in Central Park in New York City, where she visited "The Hill" dog park to talk with dog owners about their experiences. Miller (center in black) interviewed more than 600 professionals and dog owners before creating her professional program.

Miller believes that dog parks should be well thought out, attractive additions to communities, like human parks. While tight budgets are a concern, Miller’s program also teaches people how creating SMART dog parks can contribute to the local economies and attract new businesses and people to communities.

“All these people getting certified will be members of communities,” Miller said. “The only possible outcome will be creating better experiences than ever before. Because of this, we created the program both for people who like dogs and people who don’t have them or like them. Because it all has to work to be a success.”

For more information, log on to smartdogpark.com

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