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Dog days of winter
Brad Marta of Fort Smith forms dog-walking group

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, February 3, 2014

THEBACHA/FORT SMITH
Brad Marta, a longtime dog owner, has launched something new in Fort Smith.

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Brad Marta and his two dogs Cesar, left, and Nala get ready to go for a walk on Jan. 26 with others in the Fort Smith NT Dog Walking Group. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

About a month ago, he started a group on Facebook for people interested in getting together to walk their dogs off-leash.

"There's no off-leash park here in town and I figured that people would want to get their dogs socialized," he explained. "There are too many times when I come across people walking on the trails and they're afraid of how their dog is going to react to another dog. I just found, if we walked them in a group setting, the dogs adapt to each other, and they learn to socialize and learn to interact with each other."

Marta said the reaction on Facebook was positive to the Fort Smith NT Dog Walking Group.

As of last week, about 30 people have joined, and the founder is not surprised so many dog owners have become involved.

"I figure there'll be more," he said. "There are a lot of dog owners and a lot of people that want to get out and walk their dogs."

The group has held four walks on weekends up to the end of January.

"On average, we get three to five people show up with one to two dogs each," Marta said.

A couple of walks have been held by the weather station near the airport, while others have taken place on some of the other trails around the community.

"I'm trying to pick areas that are a little more isolated and won't have as many other people walking," said Marta.

Because of this winter's cold temperatures, the walks are usually for 30 to 40 minutes.

Marta hopes the Town of Fort Smith will be approached in the future about possibly setting up official off-leash dog-walking areas, as has been done in some other communities.

"That will eventually be the plan if I can get enough people involved with the group," he said. "We can see if we can lobby for something."

Marta noted there is a difference between walking dogs on-leash and off-leash.

"You can just see the amount of exercise they get," he said. "Unless you're running with your dog, your dog isn't necessarily running. So when these dogs are playing with each other, they're running all over the place and they're just learning how to interact with each other. My hope is that, with my dog on the leash, when he sees another dog he is not going to go all nuts and crazy."

Plus, he noted the group also gives the dog-owners themselves more exercise.

One of the reasons Marta started the dog-walking group is he used to often go to off-leash parks in his home province of B.C., before moving to Fort Smith about 10 years ago.

"I just saw how much of an improvement it made with my dog, the way it interacted with other people and other dogs," he recalled.

The 33-year-old Marta, who is a plumber/oil burner mechanic, has owned a dog since he was about 20.

"You get companionship," he said. "It's nice to have them out in the bush with you."

Marta hopes the new dog-walking group will become a year-round activity.

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