A FAMILY of self-proclaimed dog-lovers is seeking to launch a dog exercise park in response to a spike in demand from pet owners wanting somewhere safe for their pets to run around off the lead.

In a planning application to Darlington Borough Council, Fiona Lennox said it was hoped to charge people up to £13 an hour for exclusive use of Dog Haven, a field off Roundhill Road, Hurworth Moor, featuring simple obstacles such as dog slalom poles and a hoop, and toys. 

The proposal is the latest in a series of such ventures set to be considered by planners across the North-East and North Yorkshire.

David Gray, director of dog walking firm Petpals Darlington and Yarm, said there had been a marked rise in the number of private dog exercise parks in the area and the trend was likely to continue for some time. He said the emerging industry was being fuelled by decreasing access to land through building programmes, but also by an increasingly litigious society and the fear of being sued. On top of that, he said, had been a huge increase in the number of dogs going missing and the price of dogs in recent months, which had all contributed towards raising owners reluctance to exercise their dogs off the lead in public spaces.

Mr Gray said: “These exercise parks take the stress away for people. We are probably at the tip of moving into the same situation as there is in the United States and Australia, where they have designated dog exercise parks. In ten years’ time you may not ever see dogs off a lead in a public place. That’s something that would be incomprehensible today.”

In the application, Miss Lennox states a maximum of three owners would be allowed to book at one time and bring a maximum of three dogs each to the site.

The planning documents state the park would enable owners who are disabled or can’t walk very far to know their dogs are exercising in a safe place.

However, the papers state owners will be fully responsible for their dogs during their time on the park and will have to clear up their pet’s mess.

They added: “The field will not change visually at all and the number of visitors will be restricted so the area is not too busy.”

Mr Gray, who is a member of the recently formed Darlington council dog advisory group, said the body would be exploring whether all dog exercise areas should be privately run.

He said: “About one-in-three households have a dog, so this needs planning for the long-term.”

Councillor Jonathan Dulston, the council’s public safety cabinet member, said the authority would be keen to investigate the prospect of running such parks.

He said: “We are keen to look at how we can further enhance our relationship with the dog walking community and look at ways of making it easier to safely walk dogs and promote responsible dog ownership.”