By Rob Bradfield
For dogs tired of endlessly lapping the Bear Trail, Waco’s off-leash dog park might be worth a visit.
The three-and-a-half acre Heart of Texas (HOT) Dog Park is the first of its kind in Waco. The privately owned park is located at 4900 Steinbeck Bend, just past Lake Shore Drive, and is open dawn to dusk all week free of charge.
The park’s organizers said they envisioned it as a safe, natural setting where dogs and owners can interact and play without the constraint of a leash.
“We wanted to have a good place that you can feel safe in bringing your animal,” Julie Williamson, HOT Dog Park committee secretary, said.
The HOT Dog Park began as a patch of land bought by Dr. Lu Anne Ervine, owner and chief veterinarian at the adjacent Texas Animal Medical Center.
Jeanelle Kramolis, HOT Dog Park board president, said many members of the board were frustrated about the lack of safe places to exercise their dogs off-leash.
“I adopted a standard poodle and had nowhere for it to play, and I knew that when Dr. Ervine opened on Steinbeck Bend, she had wanted to open a dog park,” Kramolis said.
The first fence went up in February, and since then, benches, walkways and water stations have been built.
The park had a soft opening in October, with an official grand opening and fundraiser planned for March. The grand opening will feature food, drinks and an auction.
Future construction plans include walking paths and more permanent shade structures.
“We hope to have a gazebo or covered area so owners can enjoy the park,” Williamson said.
Though all types of dogs are welcome at the park, in the interest of safety, the park operators ask that all dogs be well-behaved and have current shots.
There is a separate area for smaller dogs, and the Texas Animal Medical Center next door has a staff member on call at all times in case of emergencies.
The park organizers said a few students have been using the park, but general awareness of the park is not high.
“I’ve heard that it’s a lot of fun and there are a lot of nice dogs there,” Crowley junior Diane Draper said.
Kramolis said one of the main goals of the HOT Dog Park board has been to give Baylor students a better place to exercise their dogs.
Their first commitment, however, has always been to the health and happiness of the dogs themselves, Kramolis said.
“Until you’ve seen a dog off-leash and running, you just don’t know how happy they can be,” Kramolis said.