WHEELING - Every dog has its day, as the saying goes - and Wednesday belonged to the pooch population of Wheeling, as the city learned it will receive $25,000 toward construction of a dog park.
It took a late surge during the final week of PetSafe's "Bark for Your Park" online voting contest for the Friendly City to capture one of four runner-up prizes. Those awards went to the top finishers among cities classified as small, medium and large, as well as to the community with the highest ratio of votes to population.
Wheeling finished third among 15 finalists in the overall standings with 105,547 votes. Texarkana, Texas, earned the contest's $100,000 grand prize with 144,706 votes.
PLAY TIME — Local dog owners, from left, Maryanne Burwell, Mia Szabo, Michelle Marinacci, Josh Benyo, Tara and Donnie Patterson, Brandon Alexander and Jeremy Morris take their pooches for a celebratory walk at Heritage Port after learning Wheeling has won $25,000 to build a dog park. -- Ian Hicks
When PetSafe removed the leaderboard from its website on July 19 in order to build suspense for Wednesday's announcement, Wheeling trailed medium city frontrunner Auburn, N.Y., by a few thousand votes. In the end, it wasn't close - Auburn finished more than 30,000 votes behind Wheeling in the final standings.
"We're extremely excited and very happy with where we finished," said Jeremy Morris, who has taken the lead in the effort to build a local dog park. "We just really want to thank the people of the Ohio Valley for voting, and supporting this and getting behind it."
Dog parks provide a fenced-in area where the animals can exercise and socialize with other dogs - and can help make a community more attractive to pet lovers, organizers believe.
Wheeling survived the cut to 15 from about 1,000 communities around the country that were nominated. To fulfill a contest requirement, local supporters filmed a 30-second video, posted online, that received almost 6,000 views - far and away the most among finalists.
Thus far, the group - known as "Wheeling Needs a Dog Park" - has focused all its efforts on turning out the vote, but now the real work begins - raising the rest of the money needed for the park, which could cost anywhere from $50,000 to $60,000. Committee members have raised about $2,000 so far, but with the competition over they can turn their attention to that task.
"The next step is for us to regroup and get settled on the site. ... We'll get out there and start raising (the money)," Morris said.
The proposed site for Wheeling's dog park is a strip of land along Heritage Trail in Elm Grove, across Interstate 470 from the J.B. Chambers Youth Sports Complex. Morris said the property's current owner is in the process of transferring the land to the city.
In addition to Wheeling, other runner-up prize winners were Conway, Ark., Silver Cliff, Colo., and Mountain House, Calif.