Story By Scott Roberts, photography by Indiana DNR
Raena Latina loves doing just about everything with her two dogs.
Sheldon, age 10, is a chocolate lab who participates in competitive agility competitions. Niko, 6, is an Australian shepherd-husky mix who loves to run. He participates in Fast CAT races, basically timed 100-meter dashes for dogs.
But Latina, Sheldon and Niko also like to take it a little slower sometimes. That’s where Indiana’s state park properties come in. Latina likes exposing her dogs to a variety of areas to keep them interested and engaged, and state park properties provide that.
“They are smart, intelligent animals and it’s all about keeping their bodies and minds active,” Latina said. “I want to find things to stimulate them.”
Pets are an integral part of many families, and state park properties welcome them. Pet owners can hike with their pets, camp with their pets, and even boat with their pets, if they have a life jacket.
People don’t need to stuff their activities into just one day.
Latina has traveled with her dogs on many occasions, and has some suggestions for those traveling with their pets in inns and cabins to make the stay more enjoyable for both pet and owner.
“I always take an extra sheet put it over the bed,” she said. “It helps contain the hair.”
“I also wipe their feet off and keep a list of things like extra water and food in case anything happens.”
Latina said she also travels with a first aid kit for dogs, just in case of emergency.
State parks have a few guidelines of their own that pet owners need to follow for a safe and happy stay for both owner and pet.
The most important rule for pets is keeping them on a 6-foot leash. Ginger Murphy, deputy director of stewardship for state parks, says dogs have been injured in accidents at parks, and some of those accidents could have been prevented had the dog been on a leash.
Latina said she was walking through a park when her dogs happened on a snake. No one got hurt, mostly because her dogs were on a leash.
“It reminded me, oh, we’re in their world now,” Latina said.
Murphy said she understands the temptation to let dogs off their leash.
“I have a chocolate lab and one of the fun things I like to do is watch her run, but it’s better for you, for other guests, and especially for wildlife to keep them on a leash,” Murphy said.
Having pets on leashes also makes other people more comfortable. Some people are not as comfortable around animals and seeing any animal coming toward them without a leash can be scary, Murphy said, even if the dog does not have bad intentions.
Picking up after your pet is also important, and not only for aesthetics. There are parasites in some dog waste that can affect wildlife in the area.
Some people may feel like pet waste will decompose on its own, but Murphy said waste left on the ground can build up quick.
“When you multiply that in a campground or on busy trails by hundreds of dogs over the course of a weekend, that’s a lot of dog piles,” Murphy said.
Latina said it’s just the right thing to do.
“As dog owners we have that responsibility to make a good environment for everyone else,” she said. “I find myself being judgmental if I find another owner not picking up.”
Excessive barking in campgrounds can bother other campers, especially during the quiet hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. If a dog doesn’t handle new situations or people well, it might be best to leave it at home with a sitter or at a favorite kennel so that other campers can enjoy the outdoors.
There is a unique area owned by state parks where dogs can wander and explore off leash. Fort Harrison State Park Dog Park, at 8725 Fall Creek Road in Indianapolis, has been set aside especially for dogs.
Murphy said Fort Harrison’s dog park is not something that would typically be on state park property.
Most state park properties are designed for conservation and giving people opportunities to get out and explore nature; however, the location of Fort Harrison’s dog park, away from the rest of the state park, with a completely separate entrance, made it an ideal location to create such an area.
Beverly Monts has owned her dog Moses, a 35-pound corgi-spaniel mix, for eight years and said she loves coming to Fort Harrison.
“It gives me a chance to get my dog out with other dogs not on a leash,” Monts said. “It also allows me to hang out with other owners of dogs who are like-minded and want their dog to have a social life.”
A one-year membership to Fort Harrison State Park Dog Park is $75 per dog.
State law requires all pets’ vaccinations to be kept up to date, whether letting your dog run at Fort Harrison’s Dog Park or taking them for a walk on a leash at any other property. Information on vaccination requirements and an annual dog park membership application for Fort Harrison are at stateparks.IN.gov/2982.htm. The website also includes answers to frequently asked questions.
Dogs aren’t the only animals welcome at state parks. Cats are also welcome, though they also have to be on a leash, and some people do so. Murphy said she remembers seeing a picture of a cat on a leash sitting on the front of a kayak at Chain O’Lakes State Park.
Indiana state park properties also have a few horse campgrounds. Brown County, Versailles, O’Bannon Woods, Potato Creek, Tippecanoe River, and Whitewater Memorial state parks all have horse camp areas, as does Salamonie Lake.
Riders will need a horse tag on DNR properties. An annual horse tag is $20, daily use tag is $5.
The Indiana Trail Riders Association has good information on riding horses throughout the state and how to get involved in horse riding.
You don’t have to run your pets in competitions like Latina does to enjoy state park properties with them. The properties have something to offer everyone, and if the rules are followed, everyone can have a dog-gone good time.
For more information about pet rules and etiquette at DNR properties, see dnr.In.gov/8236.htm.