Veterinarian David Cloutier said the obesity epidemic in the country is not limited to humans.
Cloutier said he is seeing dogs who are obese because their owners and the animals live sedentary lives. In addition, he said people feed their pets too much food, which can lead to health problems for their canine friends.
One trend that Cloutier said can lead to healthier, happier pets is fenced-in dog parks that allow dogs to exercise and socialize.
And the number of dog parks in the state is increasing.
Belfast’s dog park opened in 2008 and has been a huge success, drawing people and their pets from a large geographic radius.
A dog park opened in December in Bangor. In Rockport, the local animal shelter opened its park, also in December.
“We felt there was a need and it complements our mission,” said Jean Freedman-White, the president of the board of PAWS Animal Adoption Center, formerly known as the Camden-Rockport Animal Rescue League. She noted that the center can exercise its dogs at the park adjacent to the shelter on Camden Street in Rockport near the Camden town line.
The PAWS park is a little less than 2 acres, with separate fenced-in areas for large dogs and for smaller canines.
The opening of the park could not have come at a better time, she said, because in November Merryspring Nature Center had stopped allowing dogs on its 66 acres in Camden and Rockport.
She said while some people traveled to Belfast’s dog park, the trip was too long for many people.
“The park has proven to be very popular,” saying people from Owls Head to Northport are using the park.
Angie Ferris of Camden was one of the happy dog owners playing with her pets at the park in Rockport.
“I love it,” Ferris said as she played with golden retriever Rosie; and Maddy, a mixed breed rescue dog from North Carolina.
PAWS undertook a fundraising campaign of $100,000 for the park. The park is open but work such as a paved parking lot, a walkway, water, electricity and a gazebo has not been completed.
She said people wishing to donate to the project can send their money to PAWS capital campaign; P.O. Box 70, Rockport 04856.
Two other communities in Knox County have been considering creating dog parks.
In Thomaston, Jim Hodson appeared before selectmen in August to seek support for allowing one to created on town property. The Friends of the Thomaston, Maine Dog Park said it planned to model it after Belfast’s successful endeavor. The group had eyed two to three acres near Dwight and Erin streets.
A dog park in Thomaston would attract people from around the region, Hodson told the board. The benefits to the town would be many, he said. Those would include economic benefits, as many of the dog owners who come from other towns would stop and buy gas, eat at restaurants and shop at stores in town and make the town known as a dog-friendly town to visitors.
But the plan has been dropped, said Thomaston Board of Selectmen Chairwoman Lee-Ann Upham. She said Wednesday that she was told the group simply did not have enough people working on it for it to go forward. In addition, she said the opening of the dog park in Rockport made the need less.
In Rockland, however, a supporter of a dog park for the city said that the effort continues.
Former Mayor Carol Maines said Wednesday that the preferred location is a portion of Snow Marine Park off Mechanic Street.
Maines made a presentation to the city council in 2009 when the potential site was city-owned land near the transfer station at the end of upper Pleasant Street. Maines said that many dog owners, however, did not like that location because of its proximity to the dump. Supporters looked at other locations such as off Old County Road adjacent to the ballfields.
But she said Snow Marine Park is already a de facto dog park but that there is no fenced area. She said she could not take her dog there, however, because it would run off.
A section of about 100 square feet is needed, she said for a fenced park.
Rockland Mayor William Clayton acknowledged that the park in the South End has become the informal dog park and is working well. He said any more formal dog park would cost money and the city is focusing on where cuts can be made.
Maines, however, said any formal dog park would be from private fundraising.
The Belfast and Rockport parks were financed that way as was the Bangor dog park that opened in December.
Dawnette Carver of the friends of the Bangor dog park said the park — located on Watchmaker Street at Essex Woods Park — is loved by people and dogs. She said it has more than 1,200 Facebook friends.
The Friends of the Bangor Dog Park is an all-volunteer group. The group raised money for fencing for a section for large dogs and another for smaller dogs. She said plans call for a third fenced area for people who want to train their pets for owners who are unsure how their animals will socialize with other dogs. The final phase of the project will be landscaping and a gazebo.
A subcommittee of the Friends of Belfast Parks created its dog park as a gift to the city, its dog owners and their dogs.
The dog park is located off Lincolnville Avenue and is adjacent to Walsh Field, the Little League and softball diamonds. The City Council approved the location for a dog park in 2007 and Friends of Belfast Parks raised $44,000 from private sources to build the park. Most of the money was used to purchase and install the chain-link fence that surrounds the park.
The park, which is open from dawn to dusk, has separate fenced areas for large and small dogs. There are shaded areas and benches for dog owners. A bright red fire hydrant stands in the middle of the park, a gift from the Belfast Water District.
In Maine, other off-leash, fenced dog parks currently exist in Portland, Bath, Kennebunk, Lewiston, and Augusta.