Taking a Dog Break in Alachua County

Michele Sharpe

Take us out somewhere!

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Keeper and Pilot hoping for some fun, or at least some treats.Michele Sharpe

Just thinking of my two dogs Pilot and Keeper makes me happy, and that happiness is multiplied when I see their dog-joy in frolicking outdoors. Wanting more dog-joy in my life (without a lifetime commitment) was one reason I applied to foster dogs through the Humane Society of North Central Florida last year. Fostering has expanded our frolicking to new areas, like dog parks.

There are several dog parks in Alachua County for off-leash frolicking, even one named after Tom Petty! My favorite is at Possum Creek Park, where you can also find a playground, restrooms, covered picnic areas, and wooded trails alongside the creek. The dog park has separate fenced areas for small dogs and large dogs, with plenty of room to run. Pilot and I and our foster dog Iris visited there recently with our neighbor Dottie's pup Nova, who loves water. This photo was taken right before the Humane Society found the perfect fit for Iris -- a permanent home with two young children and an active lifestyle.

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Our friend Nova in a kiddie pool at Possum Creek Dog Park -- foster dog Iris and Pilot are headed her way!Michele Sharpe

Outdoor dog fun here in Alachua County can happen in your backyard, a dog park, a park with paved paths, or in a wooded city, county, or state park. You make the rules in your backyard, of course, but it's a good idea to check the dog-rules when bringing your pup to a new area for an outdoor adventure.

Depot Park, built and managed by the City of Gainesville, has many advantages for dog owners. Dogs are welcomed, and all must be leashed. Trails are paved, winding around grassy areas, a native plant garden, and a central pond. Water for drinking (for humans and dogs) is readily available, as is a human restroom and plenty of poop bag stations, plus ample parking for those who arrive by car or truck. The entire facility is accessible, entry is free, and cultural events like movies, concerts, and art shows are part of the fun.

Visitors to Depot Park can extend their walk by linking up with the 16 mile Hawthorne Trail, a paved trail that's popular with bicyclists, pedestrians, and puppies. The Hawthorne trail is also free, and it connects with other local parks, all of which can be reached by vehicle, too. Boulware Springs Nature Park is a lovely city park along the Hawthorne Trail that offers free entry and does allow dogs.

Some parks require an entrance fee, and some parks do not allow dogs for safety reasons -- usually your dog's safety! The nearby La Chua trail, for example, is a state park that requires a fee and it is closed to pets. That must have something to do with the huge alligators you can see from the La Chua boardwalk.

Because we live in Florida, being alert for alligators is always a good idea, but especially around water. Many of the trails in the Paynes Prairie State Park are closed to pets for that reason. One trail in the Prairie that is open to our canine buddies is the Chacala Trail. Don't hesitate to call the ranger station at 352-466-3397 if you have questions!

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Payne's Prairie Main Entrance Trail MapMichele Sharpe

Many parks in Alachua County will have trail maps like the one above that can guide you, as well as QR Codes at trail head kiosks that can be opened by your phone so you can carry a map electronically. Sometimes I will take a photograph of a map on a park kiosk for easy reference.

How you take a #DogBreak with your dog is up to you -- a comfortable stroll, an active hike, or an all-day exploration. For those who want a quick, intense workout, the Devil's Millhopper State Park with its long staircase down to the bottom of a massive sinkhole might be a good choice. The staircase is newly renovated after damage that occurred with Hurricane Irma. Here's my very first foster dog, Lena, at the Devil's Millhopper. She's now a happy camper with her new forever family.

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Gray and white dog peering down stairsMichele Sharpe

My neighborhood park is San Felasco City Park located off NW 43rd Street in Gainesville. It's easy to confuse this with San Felasco State Park on Millhopper Road. Both are open to dogs, and both have adequate parking. The city park is free and has a playground, restrooms, a petanque court, and wooded trails that can be walked in an hour or so. The state park requires an entry fee, has porta-potties and a picnic area, and a much more substantial network of trails. In the photo below, left to right, are my dogs Pilot and Keeper (in the stroller), and a terrific little foster dog named Spot at the city San Felasco Park. Keeper is 13 going on 14 and has heart disease, so he uses a stroller to help him rack up his hiking miles.

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Three dogs ready for a hike.Michele Sharpe

Isn't Spot cute? We all loved him, but we were happy that the Humane Society found him a loving, permanent home.

Whatever your dog's outdoor style, there's a park in Alachua County that will fit your needs. And if you'd like to add a little more dog love to your life, consider fostering. It helps save the lives of homeless dogs, and it's a blast! There are many animal rescue organizations in Alachua County. I've had an amazing experience with the friendly, professional, and caring staff at the Humane Society of North Central Florida, like Valentina and Mary, pictured below in the foster office. They match shelter dogs with the right fosters, and they provide food, treats, toys, supplies, and all vet care. Fosters provide the love and the fun.

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Staff members in the foster office at the Humane Society of North Central FloridaMichele Sharpe

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Writing and learning about adoption, education, history, law, and the arts, with a frequent focus on issues of race, class, and gender. I'm an adoptee, high school dropout, hep C survivor, former trial attorney, and auntie to 24 nieces and nephews (and counting!).

Gainesville, FL
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