BRADENTON – The dog park at G.T. Bray Park in Bradenton is now the Laurie Crawford Dog Park.
Opened in 2000 as the Happy Tails Dog Park, Manatee County’s first dog park is now named in honor of the late Anna Maria resident and hairdresser whose efforts helped create it.
Crawford was recognized with a sign unveiling ceremony at the dog park Friday, April 26. Several of her friends and fellow animal advocates attended, including Animal Network co-founder Sue Kolze.
Several county officials and staff members were also on hand, including Animal Services Division Chief Sarah Brown, County Administrator Cheri Coryea and county commissioners Betsy Benac, Steve Jonsson, Misty Servia and Carol Whitmore.
The ceremony took place near the still-covered sign bearing Crawford’s name. Before the ceremony began, Parks and Natural Resources Department Director Charlie Hunsicker passed out copies of the county commission resolution adopted in January in response to requests from Crawford’s friends to rename the dog park in her honor.
The resolution notes Crawford founded the all-volunteer Animal Network in 1999 and introduced the No-Kill shelter movement to county commissioners in 2011. She also served on the Manatee County Animal Advisory Board from 2000-2015 and chaired the board for most of that time.
“Laurie substantially and significantly changed the way the county and our community view animals and their treatment. Laurie also contributed to the establishment of Manatee County’s first dog park,” the resolution says.
“At 64 years old, Laurie left a ‘love for dogs’ legacy when she passed away on Nov. 8, 2018. It’s said that just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge – a place where pets go to wait for their humans to join them. Undoubtedly, Laurie did not cross that bridge alone,” the resolution says.
A fitting tribute
Speaking first, Brown described Crawford as “a true pioneer for homeless animals in Manatee County.”
“What an awesome week for homeless pets in Manatee County,” Brown said regarding the ceremony taking place, the county commission’s decision to fund a new Animal Services facility and the commission’s ongoing efforts to ban the sales of puppies bred in corporate puppy mills.
Coryea mentioned the recently-completed dog park renovations and said, “This week’s been an exciting week for animal lovers. Your Board of County Commissioners voted on a new Animal Services center on Tuesday, setting aside $8 million for a future facility and partnership.”
Speaking next, Whitmore said, “There’s a lot of good things happening for our animals in Manatee County.”
This includes the new dog park being built at Blackstone Park and the opening of Animal Services’ stand-alone cat adoption center in two weeks.
“She wanted the dogs that lived in apartments to have the opportunity to run and play with other dogs in an environment where they couldn’t run away.”
Sue Kolze, Animal Network co-founder
Kolze read aloud words written by Crawford’s close friend Rita Boyer. As Kolze began to speak, the sun popped through the cloudy skies.
“The sun came out. I think that says a lot for Laurie and this ceremony,” Kolze said.
Sharing sentiments prepared by Boyer, Kolze said Crawford is missed and grieved deeply by those who considered her a close friend.
“After emergency surgery saved her life in 1998, she had a vision. She formed a group called MCOLA, which stood for Manatee Citizens for Off-Leash Areas. She placed an ad in the Bradenton Herald advertising for people interested in starting a movement to get dog parks in Manatee County. She wanted the dogs that lived in apartments to have the opportunity to run and play with other dogs in an environment where they couldn’t run away. The county commissioners approved her request and Laurie helped name the Happy Tails Dog Park,” Kolze said.
“We’re forever indebted to the county commissioners who understood our vision for animal lovers and animal owners by approving the dog parks, the No-Kill movement which has resulted in a current 95 percent save rate and a new Manatee County animal shelter, which we desperately need. I can’t thank you enough for honoring Laurie by renaming the dog park after her,” Kolze said.
Several people then gathered around the covered sign.
“This is for our dear friend Laurie Crawford, God rest her soul,” Whitmore said as she, Kolze and others lifted the tarp and unveiled the new sign.
“What a wonderful turnout. This was the beginning of Laurie’s work in our county and she just kept on going,” Boyer said afterward.
The Laurie Crawford Dog Park is located at 2811 51st St. W. and opens from sunrise to sunset every day except Monday when it closes from 7-10 a.m. for maintenance.