Field Notes: The Scoop on Hawai‘i’s Dog Parks
Field Notes explores Honolulu’s vast and varied scenes and subcultures. This month: the Ala Wai Dog Park.
Photos: Odeelo Dayondon
Dog parks provide pet owners a much-needed place—safe and enclosed—for their dogs to run and play. Open in September 2014, the Ala Wai Dog Park is the newest off-leash dog park on O‘ahu, located adjacent to Ala Wai Elementary School. The roughly 15,000-square-foot, fenced-in grassy area has two separate sections: one for small dogs, another for larger breeds. After nearly 10 years of planning and fundraising, this park was built through a public-private partnership between the city and the nonprofit Ala Wai K-9 Playground Association. City rules here still apply, though the park is maintained and monitored by volunteers.
About 60 percent of O‘ahu families have pets, according to the O‘ahu Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The majority of people who bring their dogs here live in nearby condos and apartments. But there are owners who drive from other neighborhoods including Kaimukī, Makiki, Nu‘uanu and Mānoa to use this park. “We have everybody from homeless people to lawyers bringing their dogs,” says Judy Wright, the unofficial mayor of the park and a retired accountant who brings Stella, a 10-year-old basset hound, here most days. “We just know the dogs. You don’t really realize what people do for a living. We’re all on the same level. We’re pet owners. There’s no echelon here.”
The busiest time at the dog park is between 4:30 and 7 p.m. on weeknights, right after work. There are often around 15 to 25 dogs in both parks during that time. But there have been more than 55—40 small dogs, 15 big dogs—running around the park at once.
The park has rangers—all volunteers—who monitor the park and make sure everyone follows the rules. They wear royal blue T-shirts that say, “Ranger,” and float between both sections during peak hours. They can—and have—broken up dog fights and kicked owners out of the park.
Dog parks are great places to get advice about pet ownership, says Wright, and the conversations extend well beyond vet recommendations and dog food allergies. “We talk about everything—work, life, traffic,” she says, laughing. Many of these dog owners have forged friendships beyond the park and meet up for dinner, dim sum or drinks. On the other hand, don’t be offended if people only know you by your dog’s name.
There are a lot of rules, some city-issued, others community-spawned, that include:
Never leave your dog unattended.
Owners must clean up after their dog(s).
Dogs must be licensed and fully vaccinated before entering the park.
It’s recommended dogs be spayed or neutered, and dogs in heat are absolutely not allowed.
No food/drinks, including doggie treats.
No more than two dogs per person.
Toys aren’t allowed, as these can cause fights between dogs.
Meet the Dog Parkers
Anderson O'Mealy: 57, artist, Waikīkī
Dickens: 9-month-old Portuguese water dog
“If you want a conversation with someone, you should walk your dog. People seem to be more willing to talk to people with dogs.”
Cathy Au Hoy: 32, marketing specialist, Chinatown
Pono: 2-year-old Staffordshire bull terrier mix
“Dog parks really promote a sense of community, and not just for the dogs. They keep public spaces green and makes them more useful to people.”
Nally Doerr: 10, fifth grader at Noelani Elementary School, Mānoa
Mello: 4-month-old Labrador mix
“It’s an awesome place to relax. I don’t have to worry about her. She’s not aggressive, so I can do my own thing—like play with the other dogs.”