Susan Chorba, of Ocean City, plays tug-of-war with her dogs Molly and Justice. By Donald WittkowskiDirt went flying and the sound of playful barking filled the air Saturday afternoon as canines Molly and Justice tore through the sandy soil at the Ocean City Dog Park.“Whoa,” Susan Chorba shouted to her two young German shorthaired pointers to try to slow them down when they approached her at high speed.“This is what they do,” Chorba said. “I can let them run around here without them being on a leash. They can’t do that anywhere else in town. This is why we need a dog park.”Tucked away near the marshlands at 45th Street and Haven Avenue, the park offers canines plenty of space to romp around off-leash without their owners having to worry about them getting loose. The facility is enclosed by a tall metal fence and includes electronic entrance gates to keep the dogs secure.In good news for dog lovers, Ocean City plans to upgrade the security with new electronic gate access. The cost of the project, $24,863, will be covered by a transfer of funds from the nonprofit Ocean City Dog Park Association.“You want it to function properly and be safe,” City Business Administrator Jim Mallon explained of the benefit of the project for the dog park.Upgrades are planned for the park’s electronic access gates.The Dog Park Association once managed the facility for the city. The organization disbanded in December, so the money that was left in its coffers was turned over to the municipality, Mallon said.Created in 2002 on an acre of bayside land, the park is operated using fees paid by dog owners. The revenue covers the cost of processing applications and access cards, maintaining the park and upgrading equipment.In 2016, the park had about 490 active members paying a little more than $14,000 in fees. About 322 Cape May County residents and 75 out-of-county residents paid annual fees of $30 and $40, respectively. The balance of the revenue was from weekly fees, city spokesman Doug Bergen said.After they pay the fee, dog owners are given an access card that allows them to open the electronic gates. There is no other way to gain entry.The security upgrades for the dog park were discussed at Thursday’s City Council meeting and brought a bit of growling from Ocean City resident Michael Hinchman, the former president of the local government watchdog group Fairness In Taxes.“Do you need security for a dog park?” Hinchman pointedly asked Council. He continued his remarks by suggesting the dogs would be fine if the city simply “let them have some grass and go poop.”Later, though, city officials explained to Hinchman that the security upgrades would be funded by the transfer of money from the Dog Park Association, preventing local taxpayers from having to pick up the cost.“The dog park is self-funded, so it’s great,” Hinchman responded, apparently satisfied with the explanation.Molly and Justice frolic off-leash in the sandy soil.Susan Chorba, the owner of the German shorthaired pointers Molly and Justice, said she walks her dogs every day, but also brings them to the park so they can frolic off-leash. She noted the park has become an oasis for her following the death of her husband, Bob, who passed away on Christmas Day.“I’ve been coming here almost every day for three weeks now,” said Chorba, an Ocean City resident who lives on Second Street. “This was my way of getting out of the house and doing things again. I fell in love with the park again. You meet nice people here.”The park is open 8 a.m. to dusk, seven days a week, year-round. It has separate play areas for large dogs and small ones. The facilities include dog agility equipment, pavilions, picnic tables, benches and water fountains. There are also “pooper scooper” dispensers and disposable waste bags.The facility is formally known as the Cape May County Dog Park of Ocean City. The title reflects the ownership of the land by the Cape May County Municipal Utilities Authority, which operates a wastewater treatment plant next to the park.A large sign greets visitors to the park.