KAHULUI - Tails were wagging and mouths were drooling as pooches and their owners excitedly waited for Central Maui's first off-leash dog park to officially open Saturday at Keopuolani Park.
"It's really nice to have. It's been a long time coming," said Wailuku pet owner Marty Anderson, who brought dog Buddy, a basenji mix, to the blessing and opening. "I applaud the county for finally giving us a dog park on this side" of the island.
Anderson said that he hoped there could be dog parks in every community on the island. The only other official dog park on Maui is in Wailea, off of Kilohana Drive and Kapili Street, and is run by the Wailea Community Association. The new Central Maui dog park is managed by the county Department of Parks & Recreation.
Victoria Jacintho, 16 months, of Wailuku sits with Chihuahuas Miya (left) and Cha Cha.
The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo
Anderson may get his wish. At the blessing, Mayor Alan Arakawa said, "I hope this is a first of many we can open up."
Arakawa and his wife, Ann, brought along their dog, Spot, a heeler mix. When let into the park, Spot at first stood close to his owners but eventually loosened up and ran with the other dogs in the fenced-in area.
County officials said that the $54,000 Keopuolani Dog Park will serve as a prototype and its success would impact further development of other dog parks islandwide. The Central Maui park has been in the works since around 2011. The process took a little longer than expected as it was necessary to change the animal control ordinance to allow dogs off-leash within an established dog park, officials said.
The park is 34,800 square feet and is located near the Maui Family YMCA. It includes a double-gated entry area. There, owners can walk into the gated area, take off their dog's leash, then let the animal into the gated park. There is a pen for larger dogs and another pen for dogs that weigh less than 25 pounds.
Poop bags are available at the park. Owners are responsible for picking up after their pets and are encouraged to pick up other messes that they see as well.
On Saturday, Mayor Arakawa came equipped and pulled a bag out of his pants pocket and cleaned up after Spot.
An accessible drinking fountain, one for people and one at ground level for dogs, is outside the dog park's gates.
The park will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Dog owners must accept responsibility for their dogs while at the park.
"This is so awesome," said dog owner Teri Teruya as she watched poi dogs, corgis, Dalmatians, Weimaraners and other dogs frolic in the fenced-in grass park.
Teruya brought her Labradoodle, Benji, and her Japanese spitz, Yuki, along with an acquaintance's basenji, Zoomer, to the blessing.
Teruya said that she normally takes her dogs for a run in the morning but now has another option to bring them to the park.
"The socialization they get to have with other dogs is a whole new world for them. The dogs are so happy and relaxed after the trip," she said following the experience.
Liz Suter, a dog owner who has been active in the establishment of the park, was thrilled about the park's opening.
"I think it's fabulous. They are having so much fun," she said of the dogs and their owners Saturday morning. "It's perfect."
Suter said that an Upcountry dog park, which will be a private and county partnership, is under way.
County officials said that although the park will be open every day, there may be times the county will need to close it for maintenance as well as for flea and tick control. The public will be notified via the media prior to the closures, officials said.
Sue Kiang of the county Department of Parks & Recreation said that the county is still seeking "dog park ambassadors" to help monitor the park and educate dog owners of the rules.
Kiang may be reached at 270-7329 or via email at email@example.com.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.