For a small dog, Bear seems to be the pack leader of the 3 Friends Dog Park in Soldotna.
When he runs, a crowd of dogs follow.
“He looks like a rabbit, so they chase him around and around,” said Connie Hocker, Bear’s owner and a driving force behind the creation of the dog park.
Since 2011, Hocker has been working to make Aspen Park dog friendly. The two acre park is easily overlooked, tucked right behind the Kenai Spur Highway. It’s a quick turn off the main road that’s easily missed and you won’t be able to hear it from down the street.
“The dogs are happy so they’re not barking or going crazy,” Hocker said. “They’re content and having fun.”
Although the dog park hasn’t officially opened, dog owners have been hanging leashes on the gate since the beginning of the summer. There will be an official opening on Sept. 30 to celebrate the hardwork, memorialize the three friends and, hopefully, find homes for some animals.
“We’re looking at having an adoption booth set up the day of,” Hocker said. “It’s great to be able to interact with a potential dog in a park, to see their personality and how they fit with your family.”
On Sunday afternoon, the park was filled with dogs of all personalities and sizes. Mutts and schnauzers and german shepherds fly between the legs of their owners while chasing a tossed ball, or Bear.
“He think he’s the patriarch of the park, and I guess he is,” Hocker said. “He’s one big slobber. He’s 15 years old. He can’t hear and he’s having trouble seeing, but I wanted him to live long enough to see the park done and now, he loves it.”
The park’s completion was in flux since for seven years, but was given a real treat when Martha Brewer $55,000 to the city under the stipulation that it benefited canines.
Martha Brewer is one of the three friends for which the park is named. Brewer, Alice Puster and Dean Birmley were a local trio, Hocker said.
“They were great friends and always adopted animals from shelters,” Hocker said. “When the executor of Martha’s will came to me, I walked her through the park and shared my vision with her and it all fell into place.”
The dog park also utilizes funds from the city of Soldotna that were appropriated to be used at other parks which never came to fruition.
“So there’s no new money being spent,” Hocker said. “Just moving around.”
And there is a lot of moving around at Three Friends Dog Park.
Willow, a one-year-old german shepherd, stood at her owners’, Jessica and John Whitehead, feet just long enough for a pat on the head before darting off in a new direction
“It’s great,” Jessica said. “She can get all her energy out and get socialized… It’s good for her to have that interaction, that time to be around other dogs in a closed area. It’s a safe place where she won’t get hit by a car.”
John said that before the dog park, they would bring Willow to the beach or to open land beneath powerlines and hope they didn’t run into other people.
“We would take her way past everyone on the beach so we could take her off the leash, even though you’re not supposed to,” John said.
In the dog park, though, you’re supposed to.
A tall, sturdy fence lines the park’s perimeter. To enter the park, there is a double gate system that gives pet owners a moment or two to say goodbye to their dog before they run off to hang out with their ‘friends.’
“This is his favorite place in the world,” Ayden See said of his dog, Bruin, who comes to the dog park nearly every day. “He loves all the doggos and makes a new friend every day.”
The park also has a cordoned off area designated just for smaller dogs.
“We do have a small dog section, but it’s hardly ever used,” Hocker said. “Everyone wants to be out and involved with the whole gang.”
The highlight of the park’s main section are a group of large stones, which were donated by North Star Paving and Construction, that the dogs bounce off of on another lap around the park.
“We thought it would be a good gesture for the community,” Jason Foster of North Star said. “It’s right across the street from our quarry… and we have a fire hydrant we’re going to put in there too, just for the sake of the dogs having something to pee on.”
Hocker said that Bear likes to stand on the stones, keeping tabs of everything going on in the park.
“We had this amazing park that nobody was utilizing,” Hocker said. “And now we have all these dogs coming in every day… Bear is in his happy zone here.”