BARK FOR YOUR PARK: City has strong showing but falls short of dog park win

Aug. 09, 2014 @ 05:00 AM

Despite a multi-week effort that yielded more than 28,000 votes, Sanford’s attempt to win funds for a dog park in an online contest proved unsuccessful this week.

On June 13, Sanford was named one of 15 finalists in PetSafe’s "Bark for Your Park" contest, in which cities competed for money to build a dog park. Results released Thursday showed Sanford didn't garner enough votes to earn one of the top five prizes.

“It was kind of disappointing last night to watch it,” said Lora Kelley, an employee with the Lee County Parks & Recreation Department and the head of a committee to build a dog park in Sanford. “I knew that we were behind significantly. But obviously, we didn't have quite enough votes.”

Waverly, Iowa, was the top vote-getter and won the $100,000 grand prize toward a dog park. Hattiesburg, Miss., Port Chester, N.Y., and Tehachapi, Calif., were the winners in the large, medium and small city categories, respectively, and got $25,000, while Enfield, N.H., was named the Bark from Your Heart Winner, the town with the highest percentage of votes from its population, and also won $25,000.

As of July 25, which was the last known tally before rankings and vote numbers were hidden, Sanford stood at fifth place overall and second place for medium-size cities. It's last known vote count was 28,239. 

Kelly Miller, the public information officer for the city of Sanford and volunteer with the campaign, said she wasn't surprised by the outcome based on reported voter fraud in the contest. According to Miller, Port Chester lost 30,000 of its votes due to a violation of PetSafe’s rules by proxy voting, as voters shared their login information with others to increase the vote totals, while Hattiesburg and Springfield, Ill., also lost votes.

“Because there were so many votes lost, we had our hopes pinned on a pipe dream,” Miller said. “Our hope was that PetSafe would say, ‘Not to rock the boat, but we're not going to let them win.’ It turned out that this was not the case. It was disheartening and disappointing, but it was not necessarily surprising.”

Although Sanford missed out on the cash, Miller said there were lots of positives to take from what happened in the contest and the support it generated.

“We didn't win the money, but we do have a strong sort of ground team that want a dog park and want to go the extra mile,” she said. “The whole contest galvanized people who think this is a good thing for the town. Who knows what will come about because the contest brought everybody together in a central location for a central goal?”

Kelley expressed similar feelings.

“I was just absolutely amazed,” she said. “The community response was huge; it was overwhelming. The community deserves a big pat on the back. I'd really like to extend my sincere gratitude to everybody that participated. Everybody sort of found their niche, and it all came together in a wheel that spun.”

Kelley said the plan is to continue to have events to raise money for a dog park in the city. The next will be Splash and Bark, a Sept. 6 event at the O.T. Sloan Pool at which trainers will help dogs take their first paddles at swimming.

Next year may bring another go at the contest; Kelley said discussions haven't begun yet, but she knows she'll do some things differently if indeed Sanford does re-enter.

And missing out this time doesn't rule out future success. Miller said this wasn't Waverly’s first year in the contest, while this was Sanford’s first attempt.

“I saw this contest being a great way to add an amenity to the city without having to pay for it,” Miller said. “It's a different entity now than it was before the contest, and I think that’s a good thing.”