Like many kids, Gary Green always wanted a dog but his folks weren't so keen. As an adult, he did get one, his first — just not in the most orthodox way.
There was a malnourished, flea-riddled pup wandering among traffic on Fulton Road in Canton.
"I said, 'Come here little puppy, and he climbed in,'" recalled Green of that serendipitous evening. Four years later, Luke, a boxer Australian/shepherd mix, and Green are best buddies.
"I don't want to sound sappy but he really has transformed my life, and I've learned unconditional love," Green added.
Now Green hopes to enhance a stomping ground he and Luke visit daily, not only for themselves, but for dog lovers locally. He is one of 12 national finalists for the Beneful Dream Dog Park Contest. And if Green wins, he will walk away with $10,000 and a year's supply of dog food. And the Akron Dog Park he visits daily with Luke on Memorial Parkway, which runs along the Ohio and Erie Canalway Towpath Trail, would receive up to a $500,000 enhancement.
After writing a contest essay, Green made it to Round 2. He was next asked, "If you had $500,000 to create a Dream Dog Park where you and your best buddy can play together, what would you do?"
His answer had to be made with a self-produced and self-narrated video that included Green and Luke at their local dog park, along with a design for the dog park's improvements. Founded in 1825, Akron likely had its share of things pioneer in those early days. And that's what Green thought of for the dog park theme he cleverly pitched: A Prairie Dog Park Companion.
It was his first time ever making a video, and "I used my iPhone, doing short takes at first ... it was a learning process," says Green. Green's video, may be found at http://www.beneful.com/Dream-Dog-Park/Finalists-2012/Gary-and-Luke.
The dream park would have a "wide open prairie feel," which would include separate fenced areas for small and large dogs, shaded areas and a memorial garden for lost canines. Conestoga wagons with ramps, barrels and a splash zone would provide a canine agility course. And log benches and replica covered wagon seats would provide seating.
Green learned firsthand about which foliage would be harmful to Luke, so he rid his yard of azaleas, which are toxic to dogs. He brought that knowledge into his design plans, careful to avoid ornamental and other grasses and plantings harmful to dogs.
Part of his plans include ryegrass, which, Green said, "is a foraging grass that holds up good to dog urine, has longer roots and is tougher." Green is board chairman of BARC (Better Akron Recreation for Canines), a nonprofit that relies on donations and in-kind work from the city.
Judges will determine 80 percent of Green's final scoring, with the remaining 20 percent based on public voting. One of the judges is Jason Cameron, TV host to DIY Network's "Desperate Landscapes," who will help with the renovation, Green said.
Besides "putting a smile on my face everyday," Green said of Luke, "he truly is my best friend, a wonderful companion, and he brought me down to the park, and I've met some great people."
The public can vote once a day for Green until November 7. Visit http://www.beneful.com/Dream-Dog-Park/Finalists-2012/Gary-and-Luke or www.akrondogpark.org.
"Vote, vote, vote," requested Green.