Meet Gus Walker — political activist, community volunteer and loyal companion to neighborhood resident Peggy Walker. Dogs that romp through the leash-free park at Mockingbird and West Lawther can thank him for getting the idea off the ground.
Of course, his motivations weren’t purely altruistic. Gus knew that he would reap the benefits of such a park. He is, after all, a Leonberger.
Perhaps no other dogs had made the effort, but several dog owners had tried for years to bring about a dog park, but kept hitting dead ends. They mentioned this to Walker, who is a good friend of then-Councilwoman Mary Poss. Walker invited Poss to breakfast and preached her a sermon on the benefits of a dog park.
“I had not thought about doing one,” Poss says. “I didn’t think a dog park would be a high priority.”
But Poss promised she would follow up.
“Then (Walker) had Gus, her dog, send me an e-mail,” Moss says. “She wrote it, obviously, but she signed it ‘Gus Walker.’”
In the e-mail, Gus pleaded for a park where he and his friends could play and run without their leashes. He also provided websites with information on the benefits of dog parks. Poss printed the e-mail and wrote a letter on her official City Council letterhead, sending it to the park and recreation department and board.
“Frankly, I expected them to laugh at me and send it back saying we can never fund dog parks,” Poss says. “But much to my surprise, the park board and park department thought it was a great idea. The park department was very quick to go out and find some land.”
With land in hand, Poss formed a group of volunteers to raise money for amenities, such as a fence, benches and solar lights. They recruited Nolan Ryan and raised about $80,000.
At the park’s opening, Walker’s other Leonberger, Elsa Beth, stood by Poss as she cut the ribbon. Walker says Poss’ blue skirt was covered in dog hair by the end of the ceremony.
Poss, who does not own a dog, says while on the City Council she tackled quite a few projects — road improvements, the Nasher Sculpture Center, dredging White Rock Lake — but nothing as popular as the dog park. She’s received only one complaint about it.
“We got a message complaining about the dog park: They believed we were discriminating against cats,” Moss says. “I took a look at the message and threw it away because it was from my husband.”
The park has been such a success that it led to Bark Park Central downtown, and the Council has included more dog parks in the city’s long term plans.
To reward Gus’ activism, he was put on the park department’s mailing list.
“For about two years,” Walker says, “Gus was getting correspondence from the City of Dallas.”
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