'Every click counts' in online campaign for local dog park

May. 13, 2014 @ 05:00 AM

Lee County residents looking for a place to let their dogs off leash may soon have a development to celebrate.

More than a year of fundraising has yielded about $14,000, a little over half of what's necessary to fund a dog park at Sanford's O.T. Sloan Park. The fourth annual "Bark for your Park" contest, hosted by PetSafe, potentially could provide the rest.

"It's an online voting contest," said Lora Kelley of the Lee County Parks and Recreation Department. "Citizens can vote twice daily on the Facebook page and the PetSafe website between now and June 7."

Once voting ends, 15 finalists will be named and compete for a grand prize of $100,000 and four $25,000 prizes. According to Kelley, PetSafe will decide the finalists based on three criteria: availability of land, support of civic leaders and community input in the form of online voting.

"We got approval from the [Lee County] Board of Commissioners in July 2013," Kelley said. "And we already have a spot designated. We're a step ahead in the game."

Gesci Meyer, a volunteer who has worked toward creating a dog park in Lee County since she moved to Sanford, said she believes a park would make life better for dog owners and petless people alike.

"It's a benefit to dog owners and their neighbors," Meyer said. "An exercised dog is a happy dog, and a happy dog is a polite, generally quieter dog. Having an outlet for the dogs that is safe and social and full of fun and exercise is really a win-win for the whole community."

According to Parks and Recreation Director John Payne, the efforts to build a dog park in Lee County started about three years ago with surveys at different events around town asking residents what they would like to see added to the community. The department got a lot of public feedback asking about an off-leash area where they could take their dogs.

"We have a fairly high percentage of people who are renters who don't have yards," Payne said. "They need a place to get out and exercise their dogs. They can walk them on the greenways, but they like to be able to play with them as well, and that's a little harder to do when they're on leash."

Since the commissioners approved plans for the park, several fundraising events have been held to meet the financial requirements.

Meyer said that the Splash and Bark event held at the O.T. Sloan pool at the end of last summer was a huge success.

"We had an incredible turnout, close to 100 dogs, maybe a little over," she said. "We ended up raising over $3,000 dollars that day."

Kelley expressed confidence that Sanford can come together to raise the remainder of the funding through the PetSafe competition, citing the city's success in getting the Steele Street area painted last year during the Main Street Matters contest.

"We hope that this will be like earlier this year with downtown Sanford," Payne said. "A lot of folks responded, and Sanford was rewarded. I just hope folks will vote on a regular basis and get the word out."

Votes are what the contest comes down to ultimately. The $100,000 prize winner is the finalist that gets the most votes.

"We need to raise awareness," Meyer said. "We have to encourage everyone to vote twice a day. Every click counts."

To vote, go to www.petsafe.net/barkforyourpark and the Bark for your Park 2014 Facebook page. First round voting ends June 7.