Berkeleyan Doris Richards pioneered dog parks

By Devona Walker, Daily Planet Staff
Friday April 12, 2002

Richards helped establish Ohlone Dog Park, and helped Finland get started  


Sixteen years ago, no one had ever heard of a dog park. 

The concept had yet to be discovered — mainly because there were then fewer restrictions as to where dog owners could roam with their four-legged friends. It was Berkeley’s own Doris Richards who helped found the first dog park in the nation, and according to several community members it was also she who first started to get many neighborhood members active and involved in attending City Council meetings. 

This year, Richards relinquished the reins as president of the Ohlone Dog Park Association. The city will install a pre-World War I fire hydrant in the park this spring in her honor. 

“This is Berkeley, we are often first in a lot of stuff,” said Tim McGraw, member of the Ohlone Dog Park Association. “There are more Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winners here than any place in the world — other than maybe Stanford. 

“And Doris Richards was the first to create a dog park. She faced the city when they decided there were other uses for that parcel of land. She’s the one that got people out and attending City Council meetings. She created the dog park.” 

McGraw went on to say there had been a few unofficial dog runs or areas where dog owners would frequently allow their dogs to run freely but there had never been a park specifically set aside for dogs and their owners and organized by a group of people to maintain. 

Richards, for the last 16 years, has been president of the Ohlone Dog Park Association and has only recently retired. But says that even in retirement she has a difficulty separating herself from the park. 

“It doesn’t really seem like I’ve retired — they’re always calling up and asking me about things. I guess it’s just hard after having been the one for so long, not to be,” she added. 

Her memory of the early days made the founding of the dog park sound like a spontaneous idea sparked by many, and perhaps organized mostly by Richards herself. At the time, she had two Huskies in need of real outdoors space to exercise and the Bay Area Rapid Transit had just completed construction in Berkeley. This gave the city a parcel of land — unsuitable for housing, incorrectly zoned for development — and the City Council at the time was thinking of how it would utilize the land. It was then that Richards recalls some people saying, “Hey, why not have a dog park?” 

McGraw says that Richards’ real work for the dog park came soon after. 

“She’s someone who does not like the attention, but when I think about the amount of time she has put in to keep the dog park going it just boggles the mind,” McGraw said. “Doris has a history of pushing her agenda only behind the scenes where it matters.”  

McGraw said that dog owners around the world are indebted to Richards even though most of them will never know it. 

The Ohlone Dog Park is located near the intersection of Martin Luther King, Jr. Way and Hearst Avenue, and members of the association boast that it is not only the first of its kind in the United States, but also in the world. 

Initially dubbed an “experiment” by the Berkeley City Council, in its early years it was besieged from all sides, according to McGraw. “Neighbors, the city threatening to shut it down, etc. Doris was always there, organizing responsible dog owners to take a stand anytime the Ohlone Dog Park was threatened.” 

As the popularity of the idea caught on, Richards stayed involved, consulting others on how to start their own dog parks. Under her direction the Ohlone Dog Park Association helped the dog park at Point Isabel get started. She also advised the founders of the Three Dog Parks in Finland on how to go about establishing a public dog park.