For Cody Owen it’s a cause for the paws
Serving the Public " Carbondale
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
CARBONDALE ” The next time you let your dog roam free in the Carbondale Dog Park, basking in the sun and lapping up water from the doggie fountain, make sure to thank Donald “Cody” Owen.
He’ll probably be there in the morning, when it’s cooler, calling affectionately to his 7-year-old black lab-chow mix, Yogi.
The 63-year-old former Boulder resident has been in Carbondale for eight years, and is a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission.
Owen started the dog park two years ago, just a year after losing his leg to a blood clot.
He fought in Vietnam, so he thinks Agent Orange was to blame. But there’s no sense in fighting for money, Owen said. He just wanted to move on.
“It changed my life so much,” said Owen. “It was like being reborn.”
Owen moved into a disability unit at Crystal Meadows senior housing in Carbondale. He found Yogi, who already had a great attitude, and he trained her to be his service dog. Soon he discovered a new group of friends who helped him adjust to his disability.
“I didn’t know beans about how to jump a curb,” Owen said about his struggle to use a wheelchair.
That’s when he hooked up with Jim Finch and Amanda Boxtel from Aspen. Finch lost both of his legs in an accident and has since been active in athletics. Boxtel was paralyzed while skiing, and is now in New Delhi, India, receiving stem-cell treatments. She helped start Challenge Aspen, a program dedicated to providing recreational and cultural activities to people facing mental and physical challenges.
“There was this whole different variety of people in the community that were non-quitters, that were not going to lose,” Owen said.
Their positive attitudes influenced Owen, and he came to realize that he might actually be able to do more because of his disability.
“If you’ve gotta be in a wheelchair, use it,” Owen said.
Owen was a professional cyclist for Schwinn for nine years before losing his leg. Cycling was his passion.
“I worked at grocery stores in the winter to be able to bike all summer,” said Owen.
Though it was a hard transition to make, he learned how to hand cycle. He also re-learned how to ski with his new disability.
“And I was able to step up to the plate when it comes to the disabled community.”
Usually when well-meaning able-bodied people try to do things to accommodate people with disabilities, they do it wrong, Owen said. So he decided to do things himself.
Owen started working with Roaring Fork Transportation Association, training their lift drivers to be more disability-conscious. Then he decided to address the problem of that field in his backyard that people called a dog park.
There was no water in the field and no accessibility path, but plenty of complaints from community members.
Taking the matter into his own hands, Owen began to haul water in big buckets by hand from his place in Crystal Meadows to the field. The town found out what he was doing and, with their tails between their legs, asked how they could help.
With help from the town and the Parks and Recreation committee, Owen fenced in the dog park, put in a paved accessibility path and a water fountain that serves both humans and their furry friends. The park now has safe picnic tables and even some obstacles for the dogs.
“Now it has become like a real park, where people come to socialize,” Owen said.
The path is nice for both able-bodied and disabled individuals, Owen said, and when other people in wheelchairs found out about it they started coming and letting their service dogs off of their leashes.
Owen said that in the morning there are usually about 17 dogs enjoying the park. Ladies come around 9 a.m. to drink coffee and talk about each other, said Owen.
“A girl got a date here, and she’s still going with him,” Owen said proudly. “It’s a good place to meet people.”
His job at the dog park isn’t over yet. Owen said he still wants to put in a canopy for shade and a double fence, so that when one person leaves all the dogs don’t escape.
Yogi sought out shade made possible by some of the trees planted in the park. Panting in her heavy, black fur, Owen let her out of the park to take a dip in the irrigation ditch outside the fence.
Although Owen’s life has slowed down a little, it’s only because of the extra time it takes him to get around.
“My life is really good,” Owen said. “It’s weird to see. I lost my leg and realized I had to change everything.”
As Owen watched Yogi cool off in the irrigation ditch, he glowed with pride in his community.
“Carbondale gets the job done,” he said.
Wheeling away on the paved path with Yogi following closely, a little boy walked alongside him, asking about his dog. Owen in turn asked caringly about him.
“There are people in the community that I can rely on, and now there’s people in the community that can rely on me,” Owen said.
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