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A woman at Misawa Air Base, Japan, lets her dogs into the new “doggy park” in the main base housing area. Dogs are allowed to run inside the fenced-in area without a leash as long as they are made to follow posted rules.

A woman at Misawa Air Base, Japan, lets her dogs into the new “doggy park” in the main base housing area. Dogs are allowed to run inside the fenced-in area without a leash as long as they are made to follow posted rules. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

A woman at Misawa Air Base, Japan, lets her dogs into the new “doggy park” in the main base housing area. Dogs are allowed to run inside the fenced-in area without a leash as long as they are made to follow posted rules.

A woman at Misawa Air Base, Japan, lets her dogs into the new “doggy park” in the main base housing area. Dogs are allowed to run inside the fenced-in area without a leash as long as they are made to follow posted rules. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

Sherri Pendleton, an Air Force spouse, talks to “Bandit” the bassett hound while keeping her Pekinese on a leash in Misawa Air Base’s new dog park. Though “Lulu” is free to walk around the park without a leash, Pendleton said she doesn’t get along with other dogs.

Sherri Pendleton, an Air Force spouse, talks to “Bandit” the bassett hound while keeping her Pekinese on a leash in Misawa Air Base’s new dog park. Though “Lulu” is free to walk around the park without a leash, Pendleton said she doesn’t get along with other dogs. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — It’s arguably the most sniffed spread of grass and dirt on main base, a fenced-in field where canines can run, play and mark their territory without a leash.

Misawa’s “doggy park” officially opened last week when the signs on pooch etiquette and park usage went up.

But people and their hounds have been using the area for about five weeks, ever since it was enclosed, said Navy Lt. Alan Flanigan, the flight surgeon for Naval Air Facility Misawa and proud owner of three dogs.

The pooch pen — about a third the size of a football field — is next to the children’s “rocket park,” across the street from the American Forces Network studio.

Flanigan said he’s been pushing for a dog park for two years.

“We wanted an area that was safe for the dogs, away from vehicles, where they could run off their leash but also be safe for the public,” he said. “Most bases that I’ve been to don’t have dog parks, but back in the States, many communities are developing dog parks.”

After trying other channels, Flanigan suggested the park to the former 35th Fighter Wing commander, Brig. Gen. Bill Rew, at a town hall meeting last spring. At the time, officials were seeking input on how to spend $500,000 the base earned for being a commander-in-chief’s installation excellence finalist. (Misawa that year went on to win the $1 million award.)

“He had two dogs. He was very receptive,” Flanigan said of Rew, noting that current wing commander, Brig. Gen. Sam Angelella, is also a dog owner.

The money to fence in the dog park came from housing funds, according to Lt. Col. Dave Maharrey, 35th Civil Engineer Squadron commander, since the park is in a housing area. Maharrey said he didn’t know the exact project cost but it didn’t exceed $2,000. The park already had a fence around the perimeter; civil engineer personnel had to add less than 100 feet of fence and a gate between the field and the children’s park.

“It was part of the playground already in existence,” Maharrey noted.

The park rules are lengthy, including: Handlers must be 16 or older; only two dogs per handler allowed; dogs must be current on vaccinations; and handlers must “scoop the poop.” Also, dogs can’t wear spiked collars, be in heat, play “too rough” or bark uncontrollably.

So far, the park has generated a positive response, Flanigan said. “We’ve probably seen about 70 dogs there in three weeks,” he said.

Handlers are keeping the ground clean and the animals, for the most part, appear to be getting along. “We’ve seen one little scuffle,” he said.

His only concern is the proximity to the children’s playground.

“My big fear is a child gets bit, because they can walk in and out of the gate,” he said. “It will be an experiment but I’m hoping with good education and getting the word out, it will be a good thing.”

On Tuesday afternoon after 4 p.m., about six dogs of different breeds ran around the park.

“I love it,” said Jessie Hegoas, who used to hold a play group for her two pugs so they could socialize with other dogs and people. “They’re pack animals. This is what they love to do, is run and play with other dogs.”

Chanelle Underwood brings her bassett hound, Bandit, to the park every day after school.

“He gets a chance to play with the other dogs and it gets him tired, so you don’t have to walk those long walks,” she said.

author picture
Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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