Life Stories

Life Stories: Bill Hornsby helped Triangle dogs run free

CorrespondentMarch 30, 2014 

Bill Hornsby, wife, Penny, their dog, Gela, on the rock, and a friend’s dog Monk pose for a photo in Colorado. Bill died last month after a short-but-fierce battle with melanoma.

RON KIRSCHBAUM — Courtesy of Ron Kirschbaum

  • William Morrison Hornsby

    Born: May 21, 1947, in Atlanta

    Education: Earns his bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Tennessee in 1969.

    Family: One of four children, he marries Penelope MacDonald Hornsby in 1969. They move to Cary in 1974 and have many, many dogs over the years, most recently his beloved vizsla named Gela.

    Career: Works various retail positions, including a managerial stint at Woolworth’s, before founding Hornsby & Sanders Inc., a landscape contracting firm. He runs the firm from the mid-1970s into the early 1990s before retiring.

    Interests: Metal sculpting, motorcycles and dogs.

    Dies: Feb. 3 in Cary

Bill Hornsby and his wife of 44 years, Penny, traveled quite a bit, often by motorcycle. He always enjoyed nature and the thrill of the road.

And whether on a ride along the Blue Ridge Parkway or a trip to Colorado, Hornsby was always on the lookout for one thing – a local dog park.

“Anytime we were traveling anywhere, we stopped to see a dog park in that community,” Penny Hornsby said.

Hornsby was considered the pivotal player in creating Raleigh’s off-leash dog parks, and he was always interested in researching ways they might be improved. In recent years his expertise was called upon by neighboring communities. He helped Clayton establish its first dog park in 2012.

Hornsby died last month at age 66 after a short-but-fierce battle with melanoma.

Local dog owners recall a time when they met in clandestine groups to allow their pups to run free for a bit. It generally didn’t take long for the police to run them out of these renegade dog parks.

Nowadays, many Raleigh residents feel as though the city’s three off-leash dog parks have always been a part of the community. However, until 11 years ago they were still a vague idea, a “vanity” project that initially seemed like a poor use of taxpayer money and energy.

“People just think of those dog parks now as part of the city, and they were such a struggle,” said Jan Kirschbaum, a longtime Hornsby friend. They met while she was a member of what is now the Parks, Recreation and Greenways Advisory Board.

“I can’t tell you how many hours – it was just so much work.”

David Shouse, natural resources administrator for Raleigh’s parks, recreation and cultural resources department, worked with Hornsby (and his fellow dog park believers) starting in the early 2000s. Raleigh opened its first dog park at Millbrook Exchange in 2003.

“I would say Bill was the citizen advocate, perhaps even the leading crusader,” Shouse said. “He was extremely patient working with a bureaucracy and in instituting a new program. He was always bringing new ideas and suggesting new sights and locations.”

Among those ideas was an innovative method for trash pickup. He personally designed a garbage receptacle layout at the Oakwood Dog Park that allows those within the fenced area to reach through a nicely edged hole to throw away refuse, so the cans themselves can remain on the exterior of the fence. Apparently some of the sanitation workers had expressed anxiety about having to go inside the fence to empty the cans.

A key player

“He was a real problem-solver kind of guy,” Penny Hornsby said. “He spent many, many, many, many hours attending meetings, doing research, thinking about the wording.” He helped draft much of the wording for the public ordinances still in place.

Hornsby’s involvement began in the late 1990s after he retired from the landscape contracting firm, Hornsby & Sanders, which he founded in the 1970s. The Hornsbys had almost always owned dogs, sometimes two at once. He was the sort of person who once or twice brought home a stray. Mutts and purebreds alike were welcomed.

Ironically, he first took up the dog park crusade when he had no dog. But he soon came across Gela, a vizsla who became his favorite dog, his wife said. Gela died in 2011 and the Hornsbys had yet to welcome a new member to their family.

With Hornsby’s help, the parks board was able to create a dog park system that allowed the areas to be maintained, largely, by volunteers. Hornsby was often notifying the powers that be when waste bags were running low in the dispensers, or more mulch was needed to help with drainage.

He also helped foster a dog park culture that includes accountability and consideration for others. When dog park shenanigans ensued, it was Hornsby who took the time to post etiquette reminders.

“We know that off-leash dog parks depend a lot on volunteer effort and peer pressure,” Shouse said. “There are no dog park police.”

‘Kind of a twinkle’

In addition to helping the city create and maintain the dog parks, Hornsby was generous and helpful in many other areas. When his mother fell ill, he spent considerable time helping her in Atlanta, Penny Hornsby said.

When friends were called to work extra long hours, Hornsby would pop over to their homes and take their dogs to a dog park for them – unasked. He also volunteered with the Raleigh Red Wolf Ramble project, helping local artists install their painted wolves all over the city. He was an accomplished sculptor, his wife said. One of his works was purchased by the J.C. Raulston Arboretum.

“He just had kind of a twinkle in his eye,” said Karen Tam, a fellow dog park advocate and longtime friend. “He made Raleigh better.”

She has but one regret – that she didn’t sneak her pup, Maddie, into Hornsby’s funeral.

“The presence of a dog needed to be there.”

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