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By Chelsea Boozer - The Commercial Appeal -
Instead of hosting a lavish party for her parents' 50th wedding anniversary, Ana Palmieri gave a gift that was more substantial than a few family friends celebrating over dinner.
On Sunday, the Palmieri family, along with friends and other users of Shelby Farms' dog park, recognized $31,000 in improvements to The Outback, an off-leash area for dogs to play at Shelby Farms Park.
Enhancements such a new double-gate entrance and a brick-lined walkway were primarily funded by Ana and her husband, Richard Neel, in honor of her parents, Genaro and Eva Palmieri. Other contributions came from park users and the Off Leash Society.
"My mother comes here twice a day every day. She has rescue dogs," said Ana, whose labradoodle, Allie, roamed nearby. "This is such a special place for her, so we wanted to do something to honor both of my parents, but really show our appreciation for mom. Instead of spending money for a big 50th anniversary, this is something she would see every day and enjoy ..."
The installment of bullpen-style gating added a measure of safety for pets. Owners now use an enclosed area between the parking lot and park where they leash and un-leash their dogs when coming or going.
"What we had before was gravel, dirt, mud and slop," said Off Leash Society president Tammy Sears. "We had one iron-steel gate that swung in or swung out either way. What was happening was someone might be leaving the park, and someone coming in would have it open so dogs were running in and out."
Sears said the improvements, which also include tree plantings and restoration and advancements to the parking lot's grading and drainage, were goals that had been discussed for years. Seeing them finished is "a dream come true," she said, but the society has new objectives to work toward now.
Ideas for future projects include a jumping dock for dogs and an agility course -- a set of obstacles set up for dogs to maneuver through. Park users were pleased Sunday with the amount of focus from citizens, park employees and volunteer groups dedicated to the park's upkeep.
"I think this is really nice out here," said Alison Apple, a Memphian who walks her mix-breed Jerzey once or twice a week in the park. "I really like coming in from the parking lot with the double-gated doors, just from a safety standpoint."
Advancements such as those dedicated Sunday are something that Caleb Tinkle, the park's membership development associate, says would not be possible without donations.
He said yearly park memberships are "an easy way for people who can't give $10,000 to get plugged in and have some ownership and really show their support." Roughly $2 million, or 76 percent, of the park's budget each year is raised privately.
"We'd like to be able to extend (the walkway) all the way to the dog wash, and add some benches along (it). That will be in a future phase as funds become available," said Laura Adams, the park's executive director.