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Human and canine friendships formed at Johnson City Dog Park

July 20th, 2014 8:59 am by Tony Casey

Human and canine friendships formed at Johnson City Dog Park

Tony Casey/Johnson City Press

Tara and Maya are just two of many canines jumping for joy at the Johnson City Dog Park, showing their excitement as they leap for a frisbee at the hands of Tara’s owner, Rod Balch, only to chase the disk deep into the wooded area.

Balch’s bull terrier mix, Tara, spotted with black and white, has made such a strong friendship with East Tennessee State University chemistry student Will Golliver’s chocolate-colored German shepherd mix, Maya, that the two owners have traded contact information so they can coordinate visits to the park.

Golliver said it’s not uncommon — it’s important for both the owners to get along as well as the dogs.

How it all came together, he says, is just a natural progression over time because he would bring Maya there about four times a week.

“I’ve been coming here for a few years and I guess after a few years you exchange numbers with people you get along with,” Golliver said.

About 265 owners in total bring about 300 dogs to the dog park, which is located at Willow Springs Park, dog park president Jim Turnbull said. While that might seem like a large amount of furry pups playing in the same place, he said it’s never really congested and the park will continue to invite as many new people as they can bring in.

“We’re never really worried about a maximum number of dogs,” Turnbull says, never having seen more than 25 dogs there at once.

With the space and amenities allotted by each dog’s $35 yearly fee, there is a main gazebo for the owners to sit on some of the many benches in the park as well as everything a dog could want to enjoy at a park. Along with constant maintenance in the form of mowing and re-mulching, there are waste bag stations, two dog pools, several watering stations, a picnic table and bins of toys for the dogs to chew, tug and chase.

The great fenced-in spot not only gives grass for the dogs to exercise on, but the park boasts something not seen at many regionally dog parks — shade. Several great trees are found within the park’s perimeters, around which many owners will power walk while their pups play.

In the higher-temperature times of the year, many of the members will utilize the shady spots. To beat the heat, Turnbull said there are many dead times in the morning and early afternoon when the park will be completely empty, with activity picking up just after most people are getting off from work.

Most members cite the benefit of the park as a means for their dogs to be socialized. And members aren’t shying away from socialization for themselves, either.

“The dog park is a great venue for our dogs and a wonderful social gathering spot for their humans,” said dog park vice president Lauren Annarino. “We have groups that attend movies, go out to dinner, gather at each other’s homes for cookouts and meet at various locations to exercise together.”

As well as making sure things continue to run smoothly at the park, Annarino frequents the year-round park with her dogs Maddie and Macy, a Dalmatian and a Yorkie, respectively.

Balch and Delores Conant, a retired teacher, say they take a lot of pride in the current state and organization of their park and look at it as a community that requires the cooperation of all involved. If that means picking up some of the scattered dog toys or even another dog’s droppings, they’re willing to do that.

Conant said she was recently turned on to the park for her purebred shih tzu JJ, who, as a small dog, enjoys getting a chance to be able to play with dogs of his own size in the separate area. Conant says she’s seen dog parks in Rochester, N.Y., Denver and Florida, all of different varieties, and as top-notch as the gated community dog parks were in Florida, she said Johnson City’s is right on par.

“This is a big-city dog park,” she said. “This is better than some of the ones in Denver. Equal to the nice ones in Florida. It’s really a surprise to me. Johnson City, wow.”

She recognizes the socialization of people under the gazebo and says that it’s pretty cool to see people getting their exercise, walking the perimeter as their dogs interact with each other.

The location and layout of the park is impressive, too, she said, noting situation where her daughter came to Johnson City to see her.

“Now when my daughter came to visit last time, I took them to the other side, to the kids’ part (Willow Springs Park) and came over here with JJ and let him do his thing, went back over there to play with her for a little bit then we all went home and it seemed everyone had a good time,” Conant said. “Everything is in one place, which is really nice. That was really good thinking on their part.”

Her nod of the cap goes in the direction of the organizers of the park, which Turnbull says meets on a monthly basis to openly discuss all matters related to the park, from financials and membership to toys and garbage lid springs. He welcomes all members to attend their various functions and the board’s business meetings and wants to continue actively recruit new members.

Jennifer Kirkby and her husband, Scott, Turnbull said, are invaluable to all matters related to the park, saying no job or improvement is too small for them to tackle.

The Kirkbys and some of their pets, including Duffy, a Westie, are originals to the park when it opened in October 2005.

To express the amount of community that surrounds the park, she shared that Duffy has abdominal cancer and doesn’t have much time left, but the Kirkbys take refuge in the kindness of the other members who will contact her through phone calls, text messages and emails to check on Duffy.

“A lot of great human and animal friendships have been created at the park,” she said. “It is a very supportive group of people.”

For more information about the park, find the Facebook page or visit

Dog Park organizers’ foster dog detects cancer in family pet

Jennifer and Scott Kirkby think their family of dogs came together for a reason. The Kirkbys’ family of dogs include a Westie named Duffy, an original member of Johnson City’s dog park; Maddie, a black Scottie; and a Westie named Tulip.

Jennifer says Tulip wasn’t an official member of the family, only a foster dog, when she made what the Kirkbys believe to be an important discovery. “One morning Tulip smelled Duffy’s breath, pawed at his belly, looked at me and let out a horrible cry several times,” she said.

This prompted her to move on Tulip’s intuition and made an appointment with the veterinarian, ultimately finding out that Tulip’s find was spot-on and Duffy had abdominal cancer. “We decided that Tulip came to us for a reason and we adopted her,” Jennifer Kirkby said, elevating her status from foster dog to full-on member of the Kirkbys’ dog family.

The Kirkbys know their eldest dog — who began going to the park when it opened in 2005 — has limited time left, but have their spirits lifted by the outpouring of support given by family and friends from the dog park, who are always sending well-wishes and checking in on Duffy.

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