In Oregon, a dog park is dedicated in memory of a son

Kelly J. Kaczala

        After the death of their 26-year-old son Jacob last year, Larry Schaffer and his wife, Jane, looked for ways to honor him.
        “He was never one who wanted to be out in front of the crowd, or be the center of attention,” said Shaffer. “When he had passed away, he didn’t have many friends, just a few - but he held them dear. So we thought, `Do we need a whole lot of visitation at the funeral home?’ We didn’t think so. So we had visitation for one day from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.”
        To their surprise, the funeral home became full of people wanting to give their respect to Jacob and his family, including his sisters Rachael, 33, and Lauren, 29.
        “People waited two-and-a-half hours to talk to us. There was a constant wave of people coming to the funeral home. The line extended outside and around the building. It just floored us. We had no time for breaks. The time we scheduled for the visit just flew by,” said Shaffer.
         Contributions from individuals totaled about $10,000 that went into a memorial fund.
        “We had no idea what we were going to do with the money to memorialize him,” he said.
        Jacob left behind his dog, Cooper, who Larry and Jane took into their home as their own. One day, when Larry was walking Cooper, an Australian Shepherd, he realized there was no space available to let the high energy breed run unleashed in a safe space.
         That’s when he had the idea to start a dog park in Oregon as a way to honor his son.
        ”It just struck me like a bolt of lightning. We don’t have a dog park. And that is what Jacob would want. I went home and talked about it with my wife and daughters. They jumped on board and thought it was a great idea. I contacted the city. They had thought about starting a dog park at one time, but it had been on the back burner,” he said.
        On Nov. 10, the City of Oregon, in partnership with Toledo Unleashed, announced the dedication of “Jake & Cooper’s Bark Park,” at 2960 Pickle Road at the entranceway to the YMCA property in Oregon.
        The family wanted to pay forward the love that Jacob had for his dog in a positive and meaningful way by adding Cooper in the naming of the park.
        The new dog park will sit on 2.5 acres of gated land, which will have an area for small dogs, and an area for large dogs with an open shelter between the two. Toledo Unleashed started and operates a similar dog park in Toledo named Glass City Dog Park. Annual memberships will be required to use the park, which will be monitored each business day to ensure it is maintained and members follow the rules.
        The dog park has been set up as a 501c3 non-profit, so donations will be gratefully accepted to honor his memory and make the dog park a peaceful and heartfelt place for all to visit. The domain is currently under construction but there will be regular updates on the project with information on ways to donate at the site when it is complete.
        The park will include a pavilion, said Shaffer, “so there will be shade for people who want to get out of the sun and rain.”
        “There will be a dog wash station so if your dog gets dirty while playing, you can wash him up before you go home,” he said.
        Sponsors have stepped up to the plate to donate towards the dog park.
        “Right now, we’re looking for agility equipment, such as ramps for dogs to run up and down on. It will help high energy dogs burn up some of that energy. We want the dog park to be fun. There will be things for dogs to do if their owners want them to be trained for certain things, learn tricks, or just run free to play with other dogs,” he said.
        There will also be benches inside the park. Plans may also include metal swings alongside the fencing on the outside of the park to be used by people who just want to watch.
        The area for small dogs measures half an acre, while the large dogs can play in a two acre area, he said.
        “Small dogs will be able to come over to the large dog area if they want, but the large dogs cannot go into the small dog area,” he said.
        A three gate system will provide security for dogs as owners decide the area in which they want to unleash their dogs, said Shaffer.
        An annual membership fee of $45 is required to use the dog park. Dog owners who pay for membership will receive a card that will unlock the gate to get into the dog park.
        “At first, my wife and I weren’t sure about a membership fee. Jacob would want everyone to be able to go. But membership ensures the dogs have been vetted, licensed, spayed, and vaccinated. We struggled with it, but we have to protect the dogs. If someone can’t afford the $45 per year fee, we can help them,” he said.
        He would also like to eventually schedule veterinarian visits to the park, maybe a few times per year, to offer services like vaccinations and other medical services.
        “So many people from the community have been in touch with me with great ideas. Maybe get groomers to come out and offer their services. It is just overwhelming as far as the support we’re getting.  Suzanne Frankenbarger helped design the dog park sign. She had worked at Marathon Corp as their lead graphic designer in Findlay before she retired. She is doing all our designs, including peace poles, where local artists paint messages on them. People can read them when they are inside the park with their dogs.” Joan Kose is also helping Larry with non-profit applications.
        “Joan makes things happen,” said Larry.
        Both women are volunteering their services, he added.
         Dogs Unlimited will run the membership of the dog park, he said.
        “The group will also go through it weekly to make sure people are cleaning up after themselves. They have been giving us guidance to help us get started.”
        The recyclable containers at the YMCA off Pickle Road will be relocated to make room for a parking lot.
        “The city right now is working to have a spot nearby to relocate the recyclable bins,” he said.
        A grand opening celebration will be planned next spring to unveil the dog park.
        “I’m hoping we can open it on May 23, which would have been Jacob’s 28th birthday,” said Shaffer.
        To donate towards the dog park, contact Shaffer at 698-4301 or 349-7981.


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