Here’s a relatively new concern among dog owners: toxic blue-green algae. Blooms have caused swimming bans in lakes in various parts of the country. Last week the ASPCA issued an alert to pet owners to keep dogs from drinking from or swimming in stagnant ponds and lakes. And this week Palm Coast government fenced off the pond at the dog park at Holland Park as it tests the water there and prepares to put up signs cautioning dog owners against letting their pets go in the water.
But the fencing has raised its own set of problems, with dog owners complaining that it doesn’t just fence off the pond but most of the area where their dogs could run around, while creating a maze around the shaded gazebo. Some dog owners are also questioning how they could bring their pets to the park only to keep policing them from going into the water.
“No one is going to come if they have signs that say ‘don’t go in,’” says Emily Berke, who has been using the dog park for many years and who maintains a mailing list of dog-park users in Palm Coast. “I want to ask these people, how do you stop a dog from going in the water? A lot of us come to the park so we don’t have to yell at our dogs–out, out, out, no, no, no. They really need to talk to people who have dogs.”
The temporary fencing at Holland Park mazes around different parts. There’s fencing that cuts off the vast area of the pond and its slopes, where dogs like to run around. And there’s labyrinthine fencing around the gazebo protecting newly sodded ground.
The fencing off of the pond wasn’t prompted by reports of sick dogs locally, city spokesman Mike Schottey said, but as a caution. “Nothing has happened in Palm Coast, it’s a retention pond so dogs shouldn’t be in that or drinking it anyway,” he said. It hasn’t helped that the fountain in the pond has been turned off while construction proceeds at nearby Pavilion 3. It’ll be turned back on at the end of construction. The pond looks very murky, parts of its rims thick with that pea-green scum that could signal the presence of algae.
“Once power is restored and the fountain is turned back on, the temporary fencing will be removed,” Lauren Johnston, the city’s parks and recreation director, said. “Prior to removing the fencing, the water quality will be tested and those results will be made available to the public. Signs will also go up that state ‘Not intended for swimming. This retention pond is for stormwater purposes.’ We are looking into removing the temporary fencing near the newly installed sod hopefully by the end of the week.”
Heightened concern about the algae’s effect on dogs appears to have started with an August 12 New York Times story that nationalized the death of three dogs that had gone swimming in a pond in North Carolina earlier this month (Abby, Izzy and Harpo). The Times story reported on dogs falling ill and dying in many places around the country after being exposed to algae in stagnant waters. “The health threats to animals range from skin rashes to neurological problems,” the paper reported. “The blooms can release toxins that can cause liver damage, lead to respiratory paralysis or produce other fatal conditions.” The story lists incidents of dog illnesses in Austin, Texas, and Marietta, Ga. The ASPCA alert followed four days later.
Berke says she knows pet owners locally who have seen their dogs fall ill. “My dog loves the water,” she said of Shadow, her nearly 6-year-old shepherd and great dane mix, who lolled about her at the park Tuesday afternoon. “Quite a few love the water but our dogs started getting sick. Quite a few of them stopped coming because we can’t afford the vet bills.”
She said dogs have been taken, ill, to Flagler Veterinary Hospital. However, a doctor at the hospital Tuesday evening said there’d been no reported cases of illnesses due to blue-green algae. “We haven’t seen any cases between the few of us,” he said.
Likewise at another local animal hospital: “So far we haven’t seen any problems here,” Katie Brown, a veterinary technician at Dixie Commons Animal Hospital in Bunnell.
Palm Coast’s dog park has a loyal, at times ardent following. Its users were often before the city council several years ago, before the renovation of the park, demanding better amenities. The dog park at the time was a frequent flood zone. The city responded by enlarging the dog park and adding the retention pond, with the small-dog park at the south end. The small-dog park has no access to the pond. This time, dog owners are upset that the city went ahead with its fencing and potential signs without consulting with the dog owners first.
“Once again, the city of Palm Coast has taken action on an issue without any input from those most affected,” Kathleen Warner said. “How hard would it have been to distribute flyers at the Holland Dog park before initiating this project?”
Stephen Tollin, a small-dog owner, has questioned the overall layout since the renovation. “I am lucky to have a small dog so let me say that if I had a large dog I would not utilize that area since I can only see problems,” Tollin said. “How safe is the water, do I want to transport a wet dog in my car and why is the largest area in the big dog area the water feature? It is a really beautiful setting but in my estimation, not a practical layout to start with and now with the barriers up it seems the city is scrambling to patch up a bad original plan.” He said there’s still a lack of shade for people and dogs in the small-dog area.
“If the pond is dangerous, by all means, maintain the fencing as is,” Jim Torres said. “No fencing should prevent the dogs from accessing the grass.”
Johnston said the city will be contacting residents and users of the park with a survey “on how they feel about the pond closure, and the alternatives for a permanent solution in the facility,” she said. “We will also try to reeducate the public with meet and greets and conduct community outreach to local vets and groups to discuss hazards of standing water.”
“The fence will be removed the signage will be in place, the pump will be back up and working,” Schottey said, adding this rule of thumb: “If you’re not going to swim in the water, your dog shouldn’t be in the water.”
It was not what Berke wanted to hear. “Wow,” she said. “What a horrible thing to say. I mean, we don’t go in the water. We know that. You can’t tell the dogs that.” She would not be opposed to a permanent fence, as long as it was strictly around the pond–not the kind of fence that currently cuts off the entire pond area, reducing the dog park to a small zone. Otherwise, she said, “it’s not fun to go to the park. It’s like going to the kids’ park and saying no, don’t do this.”