Mouth open, tongue out, Scarlet raced to catch the ball as it rolled in the grass. Once retrieved, she rushed back to her handler Taylor Neff who held out her hand with a smile. Neff tossed the ball again and off went Scarlet. Without a leash, she was free to run across the entire field.
Scarlet and other service dogs like her now have a new place to play.
This April marked the grand opening of a new service dog park created by Paws for a Cause, an organization on campus that trains service dogs. The park, located by Cook Field, is the first of its kind and is only available to service dogs and service dogs in training (SDiT).
The park has a picnic table, water fountain and pet waste station. To make the park more accessible, the entrance has a gate-opener button and a concrete pad. The park also requires a code to open the double gates, which can only be accessed through a form submitted to Paws for a Cause.
Neff, junior psychology and neuroscience co-major, joined Paws for a Cause her sophomore year and has been an active member of the executive board for the past year. This year she’s fostering Scarlet, a 1-year-old golden retriever.
Service dogs and SDiTs typically can’t use a normal dog park due to the disruption that regular dogs can have on the working dogs. In the past, Neff used study rooms and the tennis courts to let her SDiT play. But that came with some of its own issues.
“There are people obviously using the tennis courts,” Neff said. “So there would be times where we would walk all the way over there and not be able to have our dogs play.”
The tennis courts are made from concrete, so Neff noticed sometimes her dog’s paw pads would be injured after playing.
In early 2019, members of Paws for a Cause’s exec team approached Robert Bell, director of planning, architecture and engineering, to start the project. At the time, he decided the group didn’t have the park planned enough for his team to start the project. They needed funding, approval from administration and a sponsoring department to maintain the park.
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Over the next two years, the group was able to gain approval from Miami’s administration and raised over $60,000 for the project. They received $3,500 in donations from MoveinMiami donors and numerous donations from other sources. A majority of the funding came from different fundraisers the organization held throughout the past few years. In October 2021, they approached Bell again, and he officially began working on the project.
“When we hear the compelling arguments, whether it's our office or another administrative office, at some point someone hears those arguments and says, ‘Yeah, this is something we feel the university can help support,’” Bell said. “I think we saw that there were a lot of students involved in this kind of mission and so it made some sense to support that.”
Ally DeProfio, junior microbiology and public health double major, has used the park multiple times since it opened. She said the location has been helpful for her because of the parking. The added space also means that more dogs can be in the park at once.
“We normally have a lot of playdates too, so we'll see if a few other people want to meet and then our dogs just play at the dog park,” DeProfio said.
Paws for a Cause outlines all of the rules for using the park on its website. Neff is thankful to have somewhere to go to allow her dog a place to run around, without risking injury or disruption.
“For our dogs [to have] that space to be able to let them play and run and have fun with other dogs that's really important, especially for like the higher energy level dogs,” Neff said. “My foster Scarlet is very energetic, and she definitely needs to be able to play and run around, and the service dog park has been great for that.”