By Sam Elliott
Leanne Whitesell has always enjoyed visiting Lawrence’s Fort Harrison State Park for hikes through the trails with her dogs.
In 2009, she thought she’d extend an invite to other area dog walkers and their pets through the Indianapolis Downtown Dog Walk group of which she was a member.
“I would come out here with a previous dog I had just by myself, but I thought, ‘You know, it would be really cool if other people wanted to join me,’” Whitesell said. “So I started just sharing that I’d be out here if people wanted to join me and people started coming.”
The Fort Harrison State Park walks have become a monthly meet-up and extension of the Indianapolis Downtown Dog Walk, which hosts weekly walks in downtown Indianapolis as well as other area parks.
“We’re out here every month unless it’s pouring down rain or if the weather’s just dangerous like below zero degrees or above 100 degrees, but those are pretty rare,” Whitesell said. “We’ve had anywhere from two to 20 people show up with dogs of all sizes and types.”
Whitesell has two 6-year-old dogs, Linus, a yellow lab mix, and Terrance, a miniature pinscher mix.
“These guys love both the adventure and socialization,” she said. “Linus loves the water, too.”
Whitesell said Fort Harrison State Park is one of her favorite parks because the dogs can enjoy a swim to cool off and the forest includes both wooded and paved trails. The monthly meet-ups also have proven beneficial to dogs’ social skills, getting them acclimated to interacting with other people and animals.
“He’s changed a lot since we started bringing him out,” regular dog-walker Greg Watson said of his long-haired dachshund, Rambo. “We’ve socialized him a lot. He used to freak out and start howling and screaming if we were walking and another dog went by … Now the only thing that does that is deer. If he sees a deer he freaks out, but other than that he’s calmed down quite a bit. This socializing has been really good for him.”
“It’s great socializing for both of us,” added Nathan Lauderback, who brought along great Pyrenees-bloodhound-boxer mix, River. “It’s a good opportunity to get out and get some exercise in, but it’s nothing too heavy.”
The group meets for monthly walks throughout the year at Fort Harrison State Park, usually meeting near Delaware Lake at the Fall Creek Trail for a two- to three-mile hike. Their next walk is scheduled for 10 a.m. July 10.
“What’s funny is, as a group they’ll go by another dog and they’ll all want to bark at the other dog like, ‘They’re not one of us,’ even if they just met these dogs 10 minutes ago,” Watson said. “They get their little pack together.”
Walk around Indy
Since the Indianapolis Downtown Dog Walk group was founded in 2008, it’s grown to more than 1,600 members and includes more than 110 meet-ups per year.
Rob Hansen, a professional dog trainer who operates Seigfreid Academy dog training — named after his 14-year-old Australian shepherd — and offers classes out of Puptown in Fishers, organizes the group’s original weekly walk in downtown Indianapolis as well as others at Craig Park in Greenwood and Southeastway Park in Indianapolis.
The free meet-ups and dog walks are open to anyone in the area looking to share fun experiences with their dogs and meet new friends.
For more, visit meetup.com/DDWIndy or facebook.com/DDWIndy.