Wayne Hubb’s co-workers are two of his best friends. And they seem happy to work for just kibble and a pat on the head.
Horseshoe and Zoe work alongside Hubb as the official gatekeepers at Treecourt Unleashed Dog Adventure Park on Marshall Road, just beyond the Kirkwood city limits.
Horseshoe, a German shorthaired pointer, and Zoe, a beagle-blue heeler mix, are on hand daily to greet visitors and old friends with a sniff and a wag. They also help test the temperament of new canine visitors.
“We’ve got a really good mix that comes out,” Hubb said. “We have over 300 dogs that come out here, all sizes and colors. I learn all the dogs by name.”
Treecourt opened as a dog park in 2009, although generations of Kirkwood residents remember its previous life as a cool summer getaway. The mineral water pool at Treecourt Swim Club was a favorite place to beat the heat for more than 75 years.
The cost of maintaining the pool led to its demise about six years ago, so Hubb, whose family has owned the property since the 1940s, resurrected the site as a members-only dog park.
Today, a six-acre fenced-in area allows dogs to run and play off leash. Water is provided, as well as benches and pavilions and even plastic bags for disposing of dog waste.
It’s a great place to burn excess energy, said Toph Hartman of Crestwood, who was watching Benji the pit bull-boxer mix roam the park one day last week.
“He likes to run and play. He’s got a ton of energy so just taking him for a walk is not sufficient to wear him out,” Hartman said.
“He has a blast here” he added. “Every time a new dog comes in he runs over to greet them and then they run around the park three or four times.”
Hubb, 35, grew up working summers at Treecourt, which his grandfather bought in about 1945. He remembers Treecourt being the first pool in the St. Louis area to have a season-ending dog swim, now common at private and municipal pools around the area.
After college Hubb worked in the custom home industry. But when the family decided the pool was not going to survive, he returned home to try to make a go of the dog park idea.
Hubb said he screens all prospective members to make sure the humans are responsible dog owners and the dogs know how to play nicely with others.
Reed Delaet’s three yorkies seemed to get along fine with even much bigger visitors. One recent day, they charged up to greet a bullmastiff named Agnes.
“There’s a certain chemistry among dogs,” said Delaet of Kirkwood. “They just really smile when they see each other.”
Membership at Treecourt costs $33 a month, $79 quarterly or $300 a year. Members have access during daylight hours seven days a week, although rainy conditions sometimes force Hubb to close.
On some days, as many as 50 dogs are in the park sharing space at one time, he said.
“Having a safe place to run and introduce your dog to other dogs is a dream come true for many of the people who discover the park,” he said. “People want to give their dog fun and positive life experiences.”
He said prospective members need to call to set up an appointment to visit and also must show proof of vaccination for their dogs. Zoe and Horseshow help him assess the temperament of new dogs.
"For me it is about the quality of the dogs and the relationship they have with their master, than it is the quantity of dogs using the park,” he said.
In the end, Hubb said, socializing at a dog park can be an important part of the dog-owner relationship.
“The more your dog uses the space the more well adjusted they become, not only in the park but at home and other places," he said.