Day Trip: Having Fun With Fido

Did you know that there is a calendar full of holidays honoring pets – especially dogs – and the special place that they hold in our lives? Last month, pet parents celebrated Take Your Dog to Work Day on June 24. Later this month, on July 31, is National Mutt Day. And next month, August 26 marks National Dog Day.

It’s been well documented that Americans are increasingly devoted to their pets, seeking to include them in every facet of family life. Municipalities, businesses, and the tourism industry have taken note, offering more and more pet-friendly options that won’t take a big bite out of one’s budget, force families to leave pets home alone for hours on end, or search for affordable and reliable kennels for longer stays. With those thoughts in mind, this month’s column takes a look at some fun places in our area that welcome Fluffy or Fido – because the furry members of the family would surely enjoy a day trip, too!

Just a stone’s throw from home, and part of the Monmouth County Park System (www.monmouthcountyparks.com), are two specially designated off-leash dog areas for dog owners and their canine companions.  In Lincroft, off of Newman Springs Road, the Thompson Park Off-Leash Dog Area is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to dusk and combines two areas – one parcel of 1 ¼ acres for dogs of all sizes, and one ¼-acre area for smaller pups weighing 35 pounds or less. The concrete walkway and patio leading up to the entrance features a water fountain with two levels – one for people and a lower one for dogs. Surrounding the off-leash areas are 667 beautiful acres at Thompson Park that are perfect for strolling – with a leash, of course.

The park system’s second off-leash dog area is at the Wolf Hill Recreation Area on Crescent Place in Oceanport. Also open daily from 8:00 a.m. to dusk, the area has a unique oval design with a natural area in the center, and combining an area for dogs of all sizes and another for smaller dogs weighing 35 pounds or less.  Pooches and their people will find two concrete patios, each with a sheltered bench, in the all-dog area, plus a concrete patio with sheltered picnic area in the small-dog spot. Beyond the off-leash area are another 92 acres to enjoy exploring together.

A bit further south is the area known by locals as “dog beach.”  Fisherman’s Cove Conservation Area is located on Third Avenue at the Manasquan Inlet. Here, pets whose owners travel from far and wide have the opportunity to enjoy some uninhibited doggie paddling in the cool water on a hot summer day, or simply frolic along the beach for a spirited game of catch. Bear in mind that this 55-acre site, also part of the Monmouth County Park System, is not an off-leash park, so you’ll still need to keep your pet tethered on a leash while playing. A portion of the beach is designated as dog-free. Dog owners and their pets can enjoy the front (east) portion of the beach while the back (west) portion is preserved for other beach activities.

If you’d like to go a bit further afield, there are lots of other off-leash dog parks that provide room to freely roam in other communities all around the state, listings for which – not only for New Jersey, but other states, as well – can be found online. And day trips don’t just mean playing in grassy parks. For Jersey Shore area residents, one of the great joys in life is living within an easy distance of the beach – and “life’s a beach” for Jersey dogs, too!   From Sandy Hook in the north all the way down the coast to Cape May in the south, there are sandy spots that welcome our canine companions. It’s worth noting, however, that most beach towns don’t allow you to walk your pet along the shore or on the boardwalk at certain hours of day or during the summer season, but the off-season months (the starting and ending dates of which may vary by town) are a doggy’s dream for romps along the beach, jumping in the surf, bird watching (or bird chasing!), and even checking out lighthouses and quaint, historic sites. Notably, Gateway National Park at Sandy Hook in Highlands is dog-friendly all year long on the inlet (or bay) side of the Hook, but dogs must be leashed at all times.

Asbury Park also embraces doggy visitors in a special way, and is considered by some to be among the most pet-friendly towns in the state. Dog owners can toast to that at the popular Wonder Bar (www.wonderbarasburypark.com), where – on various days and hours, and for different size dogs – four-legged friends can join their two-legged drinking buddies at Yappy Hour and play in a large fenced yard, complete with their own pooch pools to cool off. Featuring great food and drink specials along with canine companionship, Yappy Hour devotees even have a Facebook page for keeping updated and in touch with one another (www.facebook.com/WonderBarYappyHour).

Wherever you and man’s best friend decide to go together, remember to bear in mind the common courtesies, rules, and regulations that are enforced in all public areas. This includes cleaning up after your dog, carrying a leash at all times, not bringing along aggressive or sick dogs or puppies that are too young, and making sure your pet is licensed and vaccinated (and preferably spayed or neutered). Owners are expected to supervise their dogs – and yes, their children, too, especially with pets they don’t know – and are responsible for their behavior.

If you find that a day trip just isn’t enough, and you and Fido are whimpering for a longer period of rest, relaxation, and recreation together, you can find plenty of information on pet-friendly hotels and motels, bed and breakfasts, campgrounds, vacation rentals, shopping venues, special events and expos, amusement parks, and restaurants. Sniff out all the details on websites such as www.bringfido.com, www.dogfriendly.com, and www.petswelcome.com.