Puppies of the Caribbean

There are two kinds of residents on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands: the West Indian natives and the transplanted mainlanders, colloquially known as “continentals.” Though culturally quite different, the two do have a few things in common—a shared love for the beauty of St. John and its resident canines. Yet despite the large number of dogs and dog owners on St. John, the island has no public space to play fetch, toss a frisbee, and get to know the neighbors. 

Could a dog park solve both the island’s continental and canine conundrums?

This question was of the utmost importance to Chris Angel, a St. John resident whose dying wish was to help The Trust for Public Land bring St. John its first dog park. “Chris had two words for me: dog park,” says John Garrison, The Trust for Public Land Virgin Islands program director. “He knew a dog park was desperately needed on the island, and that a mutual love of dogs could bring the people together.” A businessman and landowner, Angel was familiar with our work and knew if anyone could rally the community to build a dog park on St. John, it was The Trust for Public Land.

A Safe Place to Play

St. John may be paradise to most, but it isn’t always a walk in the park for resident pups and their owners. Most of St. John’s open space and beaches are national parkland property, meaning they are off-limits to man’s best friend. This presents quite a challenge to local dog owners, who struggle to find places to exercise and socialize their canine companions.

To compound matters, St. John’s roads lack sidewalks and shoulders, presenting safety concerns for dog walkers. “People have to walk their dogs on crowded roads,” says Garrison. “There have been a couple of incidents where people and dogs have been hit. A safe place to exercise dogs would be a huge island amenity.”

Beyond providing a safe place for St. John’s dogs to blow off some steam—a dog park would offer local dog lovers a place to connect and build community. “A dog park isn’t just for dogs,” says Garrison. “It’s for their owners, too.” A public dog park would serve as a commons where neighbors gather and get to know one another.

“The whole community is behind us on this,” says Garrison. “The community foundation, animal care center, and individual pet owners are all supportive. The people of St. John want a dog park.”

Looking for Land

Garrison, who’s also hard at work protecting St. John’s Maho Bay, is currently sniffing out the perfect location for Chris Angel Memorial Dog Park, a task complicated by the island’s rugged and mountainous terrain. He’s looking for a two-acre parcel that’s relatively flat, near a public road, and with access to utilities so the dog park can have fresh water, lights and a lockable fence. “The park has had an outpouring of support, so we’re hoping the search won’t take long,” Garrison says. If all goes smoothly, Chris Angel’s wish will be realized and the dog park on St. John—the Caribbean’s first, and only, dog park—could be open for barking by the end of the year.