By Jessica Tuggle
VERO BEACH — The private, off-leash dog park on 12th Street and 16th Avenue in Vero Beach received a donation from a “Christmas angel” which will allow it to stay open through Feb. 28. Park directors had previously announced the park would close on Dec. 31.
Directors for Dogs For Life, the nonprofit that owns the 4.5 acre parcel, said membership levels and incoming dues have decreased to the point where keeping the park open was no longer feasible.
The park, which opened in 2002, will be put on the market in 2013, after a market study and appraisal is completed, directors said.
“It’s breaking our hearts to do it, but it is strictly a business decision,” said Shelly Ferger, founder and executive director of Dogs For Life.
With the anonymous donation, the members will have the opportunity to review their options and will discuss if there is any way to keep the park open, a press release said.
Over the past few years, the membership of Dogs For Life has plummeted, with the economy as a large factor, and without membership dues and donations, the park cannot be maintained, Ms. Ferger said.
Membership dues and donations were the only source of funding for the park as no city or county money has been received.
Dogs For Life is a nonprofit organization begun in the late 1990s that trains dogs for hearing and mobility assistance, as well as pet therapy. The organization’s leaders are also certified to train dogs to serve veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The main mission of the organization was always to train service dogs, not to run an off-leash dog park, though the membership has enjoyed its presence greatly, Ms. Ferger said.
“We will be moving full steam ahead in training hearing, mobility and service dogs for veterans. We are definitely going to continue in that mission,” she said.
“We would love to see the park continue as a dog park property. We really hope that is the case,” Ms. Ferger added.
Dogs For Life is fully accredited by Assistance Dogs International and currently goes to the homes of individuals to train the dogs.
Hearing dogs are trained to recognize door knocks, ringing telephones, alarm clocks and smoke alarms and alert their hearing-impaired owners.
Mobility assistance dogs can be trained to do a variety of tasks, based on the needs of their physically challenged owners, such as rising from chairs and retrieving fallen objects.
Dogs For Life is one of the few organizations in Florida with the Assistance Dogs International accreditation and can provide the necessary certification required for dogs owned by veterans to receive benefits through the veterans administration.
One Dogs For Life trained-dog, Pia Pia, helps retired Iraqi veteran Jim Taylor live his life with freedom and mental well-being, Ms. Ferger said.
“We have many success stories which demonstrate that a task-trained dog can save an individual’s life by being trained to tap a 911 emergency phone,” Ms. Ferger said in a press release.
In the next year, Dogs For Life will change its name to better match its mission in an effort to provide clarity to donors and the community at large, Ms. Ferger said.
Since 2002, 90 service dogs have been trained by Dogs for Life, including two veteran’s dogs.
For more information, call Ms. Ferger at (772) 567-8969 or visit www.dogsforlifevb.org.