Dogs in heaven

By Nick Robinson

A day at the Howard and Erna Soldan Dog Park after it was named one of the best by Dog Fancy.

On a balmy spring day last week, Joe Bignell packed his dog, Bob, an 18-month- old German Shepherd, into the back seat of his car and took it to the Howard and Erna Soldan Dog Park on Lansing’s south side. But Bignell didn’t make the decision to go to Soldan; it was Bob. After all, Bob has been going to the park three or four times since the weather started to turn; he likes to socialize and swim in the lake.

Bob is not alone in his joy. The grey lady of canine periodicals has bestowed its approval on Soldan, too.

In its June issue, Dog Fancy Magazine named Soldan one of the best dog parks in America for its dog-training classes.

“Before the 15-plus acre Howard and Erna Soldan Dog Park opened in 2007, the park’s community association held workshops to coach people about dogpark safety and etiquette. The public park’s educational mission carries on through regular classes on topics like canine body language and dog nutrition. Smart!” reads the article, which, among others, highlighted Soldan along with dog parks in Houston, Ossining, N.Y., Ely, Iowa and Jacksonville, Fla.

Dog Fancy did not return a call asking why Soldan was chosen as one of the best. However, city officials have not missed an opportunity to show off the honor. At a City Council meeting two weeks ago, Finance Director Jerry Ambrose held up a copy of the magazine, informing the body of Lansing’s latest honor.

Aside from its classes Soldan is quite picturesque for a dog park. Everything seems perfect, like it’s been pulled out of Disney movie.

On a recent day, the park’s hills were bright green, despite the overcast skies, and the pond, the park’s centerpiece, was choppy from a slight spring breeze. A blue heron was seated in a set of bushes, and a lone goose was swimming from a small island to the shore. Charcoal grills and picnic tables dotted the landscape surrounding Soldan.

Soldan is located in the city of Lansing’s Scott Woods Park, but the entrance is through Hawk Island Park, off Cavanaugh Road between Aurelius Road and Tranter Street. According to the Web site of the Friends of the Erna and Howard Soldan Dog Park, “Lansing Unleashed,” the park was financed in part by Howard Soldan II and Soldan’s Feed and Pet Supplies.

The park is over 17 acres, much of which is forest. The park is surrounded by fence, and once inside, dogs are let off their leashes to run free. The fence, apparently, is a big draw for dog owners.

“The fence helps make the park a safe place for my dogs,” Luann Williams said. She had with her two dogs, a 3-year-old English mastiff named Hampton and a 7-year-old Weimaraner named Lilly, and she comes to the park “virtually every day.”

“They just love to swim in the water and socialize with other dogs,” she says. “And I like talking with other dog owners, too.”

(Williams later engaged in a battle with the two dogs over the ownership of several large sticks.)

Soldan also has a lot to make sure your dogs have a good time. Throughout the park there are drinking fountains for humans, with dishes at the bottom for thirsty pooches.

The park also provides biodegradable black plastic bags so you can scoop up after your dog. The Orlando, Fla.-based Dogipot, which bills itself as “the green solution for dog pollution,” supplies Soldan’s bags. On each bag station is a logo of a panting dog seated next to a fire hydrant and a five-panel cartoon instructing owners on how to pick up your dog’s leavings.

Some of the park was underwater last week, which might have created a problem for some dog owners, but probably not the dogs. Near a small stream that had overflown a concrete pathway, a few small finches bathed, but they flew off when a shaggy golden retriever ran up to them.

As Bignell was taking Bob home, he had a pleasant but yearning look on his face, as if to say, “Let’s stay longer.” His mouth was wide, like he was grinning. At least one dog had gone to heaven that day.