ELIZABETH — Julianna Marulanda dreams of a place where poodles, terriers, collies and other dogs can run without the confines of a leash, and has begun a campaign to turn a section of Warinanco Park into a dog park.
Almost 500 people have signed Marulanda’s online petition since she launched it on change.org about a month ago. She has also collected about 70 additional signatures in person, putting her more than halfway to her goal of 1,000.
“You want to play with your dog and you don’t want to be worried that you’ll be stopped and people tell you, ‘You have to have your dog on a leash,’” she said. “He just wants to play fetch. It’s not fun trying to play fetch when they’re on a leash. So, I was wondering and I started asking around, like, ‘Yeah, why can’t we get a dog park here?’”
Marulanda, 24, said she approached Councilman Manny Grova Jr. with the idea when she spotted him at a parade. She told him that if she wanted to take her German shepherd, Katya, to a dog park, she would have to travel to South Mountain Reservation in Essex County or Echo Lake Park in Mountainside.
Marulanda said Grova didn’t think there was a place inside the city to add a dog park, but he suggested that a section of the 205-acre Warinanco Park, which traverses Elizabeth and Roselle, could be set aside for one. He instructed her to go out, get the signatures, do some homework and get the ball rolling. Eventually, Marulanda said, the signatures and the proposal will be present to members of the Union County Freeholder Board.
According to Marulanda, at least an acre of land is needed for a dog park, which should be divided it into a section for big dogs and one for smaller dogs. Sometimes agility equipment is generally installed as well as a water station. Otherwise, all that is really necessary is land and fencing.
She said there is plenty of room inside Warinanco Park, which has managed to carve out space for an ice skating rink, a boat house, several trails, tennis courts, playgrounds and a 5,458-square-foot event space.
Marulanda has identified a seldom-used baseball field, one of about 17 in the park, and said it seems reasonable to ask for one to be converted into a play area for dogs.
Marulanda said the coast of the dog park could be greatly offset, if not paid for, by grants. Petco and PetSmart donate money to communities to build dog parks. Plus, PetSafe, the largest manufacturer of electronic pet-training products in the United States, runs Bark for Your Park, a program that has doled out more than $1 million to communities to help them build and maintain dog parks.
The support the online petition has gotten has exceeded Marulanda’s expectations. She is also heartened by the support she receives when she asks residents to sign the petition.
“I started the paper petition because I’m not Facebook friends with everyone who lives in Elizabeth and sometimes you have older people who aren’t on Facebook, and they have dogs and they live a block away from Warinanco,” she said. “Their faces just light up when I tell them what I’m working on, and they wish me good luck and they want to see this happen.”
Katya waits for Marulanda to arrive home from her job on the campus of Rutgers-Newark, where she is an accountant, then the two go for a walk, hike or a run on the beach during the summer.
While there is currently no timetable for Marulanda’s proposal, she hopes Katya will have a place near her home to run free as early as next summer.
“How is it that we don’t have a dog park here?” Marulanda said. “So many people have pets. Elizabeth is so big. It will be a great asset to the community. It will make us more pet friendly. We live in a town where so many people want dogs. I’ve never seen so many dogs walking around a community.
“Just on my block, we have like 20 dogs. It’s just a great companionship, and I think people just want a space where they can take them and sit down and let them enjoy running around freely or playing fetch without worrying.”
Photo by Julianna Marulanda