By Jim Hagerty
ROCKFORD — It is not all that unusual to rise early and go through a morning routine, especially when one has people to see and appearances to make.
For Ruby the 1-year-old Newfoundland, it’s typical to begin with a stroll through downtown Rockford before her owner starts her day at a local architectural firm. The first walk takes them to Ruby’s familiar stops.
“The west side of downtown has a lot of churches with nice green spaces so we have those on our rotation,” owner Emily Christiansen said. “She has her favorites spots at each that she insists on sniffing each time we visit.”
The din of birds and light traffic is typical at 6 a.m., and few passersby notice the lumbering four-legged giant on that first walk. A few hours later, Ruby is a familiar part of the noontime backdrop. Locals have even come to know her by name. And those who do not will at least stop and inquire.
“People yell from several floors up, or from their car to shout compliments,” Emily said.
And it is not like downtowners are unfamiliar with dogs. With a growing housing stock, more residents like Christiansen have them in tow. The Burnham Lofts inside the Trust Building and a host of other mixed-use property along the Rock River are all pet-friendly, lending convenience for compact breeds typically part of an urban setting. That said, there aren’t too many Newfoundlands living in second-floor apartments, so Ruby is always a topic of conversation. Some start with bewildered comparisons to horses, but they’re chats nonetheless.
Ruby gets plenty of exercise when she’s not navigating the downtown streets. On most weekends, she’s among the fearsome beasts of the hills and plains. Not exactly. She is a regular at the spacious Searls Park, where there are mostly birds, squirrels and the occasional rabbit on the winding trails big enough to fatigue just about any pooch. Ruby takes advantage of them every time, experiencing the scenery at each turn. And when it’s over, it is back to city life and the critters there.
“You don’t realize how much wildlife is downtown until you walk a 130-pound toddler,” Christiansen said.
The Rockford Park District’s Canine Corners program offers three off-leash dog parks: Searls, Elliot Park and Olson Park.
With 24 acres, a shelter and water at 950 Safford Road, Searls is one of the largest fenced off-leash parks in the state. At 7901 Harlem Road, Olson boasts more than six wooded and open acres, the park offers shelter, water, and dog rinsing facility. Elliot sits on two acres at 888 S. Lyford Road.
Full season tags are $40 per dog for residents; $48 for non-residents. One-day passes are $3 per dog and available at the Rockford Park District office or online. R.