Researcher pilots dog park study in Farmington Hills

Dr. Betz King William Grace Dog Park
Dr. Betz King brings her dogs every day to William Grace Dog Park in Farmington Hills.

Dr. Betz King takes her three dogs – Willow, Bodhi, and Rowan – to the William Grace Dog Park in Farmington Hills every morning, even before she’s fully awake.

“I roll out of bed and get into my car,” said King, who recently conducted a pilot study about how dog parks affect pet owners. “It’s a real community here.”

The park on Shiawassee Road, which in 2018 served more than 430 dogs from 369 households, also makes King happy. As a researcher, she started to wonder if it made other people happy and how that could be measured.

King, who holds a doctoral degree in psychology from Farmington Hills-based Michigan School of Professional Psychology, presented the results of her study during an American Psychological Association conference in Chicago. She explored “the biopsycho-social impact of dog-park membership on the human companion.”

Combining quantitative and qualitative methods, King created and posted a QR code that dog park visitors could scan to pull up a survey, and she interviewed her dog park compatriots. She said participants reported feeling “highly satisfied” with life and see the dog park as a place that benefits not only their pets, but also their own physical and mental well-being.

“If you walk the perimeter three times, it’s one mile,” King said. “People get their steps in. A couple of people said it helped with their depression.”

Those ages 60 and older reported the highest levels of satisfaction, but King noted folks in that age group are retirees or winding down their work lives, which may affect the results.

However, she added, “Lots of studies show that being with dogs lowers blood pressure and reduces cortisol. Just being here really does make people feel better.”

Not all the stories are positive. People also reported dog fights, which are rare but frightening. Pet owners are occasionally injured; King once suffered a broken ankle.

The biggest complaint, though, is the lack of shade and running water inside the fenced area. “All summer long, by 11 a.m., it’s too hot to come,” King said.

Because she surveyed a small number of people, she called the results “statistically insignificant.”

“This would be considered a pilot study,” she said. “I am curious enough to want to do it again.”