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Jim Welles, founder of dog park, was pooches’ best friend

STORY BY BONZO (Week of March 30, 2023)

I received spe-shull permission to write this because it’s about a local human who’s been buh-loved by hundreds and hundreds of dogs an humans for many years: Mr. Jim Welles, founder of the Vero Beach Dog Park, who passed away March 16.

As you probly know, the park – that 5-acre green space along the river, with trees, ackshull fire hydrants,  faucets with water bowls, benches an shade canopies for our humans – is FREE for every dog an his or her human. An it’s open 7 days a week, sun-up to sun-down. Major Cool Kibbles.

I learned of this sad event from Welles’ faithful pooch companion, Emmy, who shared that, “one of the greatest joys in my Dad’s life was our dog park. After he became too ill to go there, he finally decided to move back north to be with his human family. We were all right there with him to the very end.”

Me an the Dog Park humans have been receiving numerous notes, emails and woof-mails expressing sympathy an saying how much they loved and appreciated Welles, and there’re more than 500 similar comments on social media.

Frequent pooch park patrons Linus Gibbons, Cabana Boy Barrett an Parker Jones all said they’d see Welles every single time they were there, usually with one of his pooches, Duke, Jake or Emmy, an he was always smilin’ an makin’ sure us pooches an our humans were havin’ a good time.

Woof-mail memories of Welles also poured in from Dog Park regulars Tiggy, Basil, Andy, Stella, Kiko, Skye, Oliver, Ralph, Juno, Jax, Ranger, Harley, Jojo, Bear, Teddy, Dixie and many others.

Welles’ long-time fren and one of the founding humans, Bob George, phoned me all the way from California to talk about how, as leader of the pack, Welles worked tirelessly for years with other dedicated humans like George, John Wester, Phil Reid, Robin Pelensky an Leah Muller to turn the dog park dream into reality.

First, he did  lots of research to learn what dog park model worked best in other places. Most were either privately funded or municipally owned with a charge to use. 

What was agreed on for here is what us pooches would call a mixed breed.

The nonprofit Dog Park organization – operated by its board (Welles was the first president) and human volunteers – has a very helpful 10-year lease agreement with the city, is totally free to residents, visitors, snowbirds, boaters; and  survives on donations only, which it has done for 9 years.

The park officially opened in March 2014. (With its immediate success, the opt-out claws the city included in the lease was removed after the first year, George noted.)

Welles leaped into the initial fundraising with his usual enthusiasm, and the park, which costs about $55,000 a year to operate (for utilities, extra insurance, poop bags an other stuff), has raised about $800,000 so far, says George.

He adds that lots of humans with pooches have told him the dog park was a major reason they decided to visit, or even to move, to Vero Beach.

George remembers how his friend was always havin’ these “brilliant ideas,” an the group’d  all say, “Oh, suuure, Jim.”

But he’d usually make ’em work. Like when they were going before the City Council with their proposal, Welles suggested they put petitions at restaurants and shops to “assess local support.” The resulting 1,700-plus signatures sure impressed the Council, even more so because they were formally delivered to the Council Chambers by a Certified Companion Pooch.  (Also one of Jim’s brilliant ideas.)

Yet another Brilliant Jim Idea was when he invited dog-loving celebrities Gloria and Emilio Estefan – owners of beach resort Costa d’Este, which had an official Concierge Pooch – to attend a fancy Dog Park Fundraiser. The Estefans regretted they couldn’t attend cuz they were in New York rehearsing for their Broadway show “On Your Feet!,” but said they’d donate $1,000.

On the night of the fundraiser, when it was time for the Big Check Presentation, the resort manager announced that the Estefans had decided not to donate $,1000. They would donate $5,000 instead.

 Welles oversaw the initial construction of the park, which has a liddle dog side anna big dog side, and was always planning improvements. (There’re lotsa ways to help our park: check out

 When I asked about how many visits the park gets, George said about a million so far. So I asked how they keep track of that.

“We count the poop bags,” he said.

That totally sounds like one of Mr. Welles’ brilliant Ideas to me.

On behaff of myself an my fellow Dog Park-loving pooches an their humans: “Hi Paw, Mr. Jim Welles!  You’ll always be our Hero!”