Coconut likes chasing lizards.
She loves to frolic on the beach.
She also enjoys sailing on her family’s 32-foot sailboat, and watching dolphins swim by.

She’s a 15-year-old, 30-pound white mixed breed dog owned by Jacksonville Beach residents Sandy and Jim Golding. And she’s a pet so beloved that she inspired the founding of a dog park.

Sandy said she’ll never forget the day Paws Park opened in Jacksonville Beach on May 1, 2005, a date celebrating Coconut’s adoption. “Because May 1, in 1999, was the day we adopted Coconut,” she said. “We call it her ‘Gotcha Day’ because we don’t know her real birthday.”

Sandy started the movement to create Paws Park, a fenced city-owned leash-free property at Wingate Park, shortly after she and Jim and Coconut moved from Alabama to Jacksonville Beach in 2000.

Looking for somewhere to exercise your pup?
Check out Dog Parks on the First Coast

They had adopted their “pound puppy” from a shelter when she was eight months old and didn’t name her at first because they wanted a name that fit her personality, Sandy said. Unfortunately, the puppy became very sick with a deadly puppy virus the day after they brought her home. After three days in an animal hospital, she recovered, and after spending time with her, the Goldings then came up with the name “Coconut.”

“Because she’s white,” Sandy said. “And a little bit of a nut. It’s cute. The name seemed to fit her.”

coconut04It was on the beach, Coconut’s favorite place to visit, that newcomer Sandy met other dog owners. “People talk to you when you have a dog,” she said. “I realized living in a community where I didn’t know anybody that dogs were a way to bring people together.”

During chats on the beach, Sandy and the other dog owners discussed their wish for a dog park, where their pets could run free and play. They formed a group in 2001 called the Beaches Dog Park Project and started researching existing parks, although there were few in the First Coast area at the time.

The group put together a proposal to educate local officials and answer questions and concerns while searching for suitable locations. Land in Wingate Park, off Penman Road, proved to be the best location, and after several years of research and lobbying, the park opened with a “leash cutting” ceremony.

“There were hundreds of people there with their dogs, and the people were smiling and the dogs were playing and having a great time,” Sandy said. It was the first city sponsored dog park in Duval County and is still very popular.

Except with Coconut, who never liked going there all that much.

Ironically, she’d rather go to the beach or sailing, Sandy said. “She’s a great boat dog.”

During a long sailing trip to Key West in 2009, the Goldings created a blog by Coconut, telling the story of their adventure through their dog’s eyes.

“She’s special, because she’s brought so much sunshine to our lives,” Sandy said. “She makes us smile.”