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Dogs in Parks

Editor’s note: We offered our editorial page to John Barber for an opinion piece he has written on dogs and parks. His views in no way represent those of the Leschi News, the editor or the Leschi Community Council Board.

In January, the Seattle Parks Department will issue a report that recommends a revised policy about dogs — off-leash or on-leash — in park-owned lands. Some dog advocates have pushed for more than just more fenced off-leash areas, but also open unfenced places to take dogs off-leash, including Leschi Park and the natural areas in Leschi — Frink Park, upper Leschi Park, Peppi’s Playground, and the Leschi Natural Area.

As a dog owner, daily park user and volunteer/Forest Steward, I’ve had experience since 1971 with my own dogs and with other owners and their dogs. It can be fun to watch dogs playing, but off-leash dogs here are a problem on many levels and result in conflicts between park users that are difficult to resolve:

We’ve had numerous instances of park volunteers and forest stewards getting their hands and shoes smeared with dog waste. In the landscaped areas, dog owners often don’t see their dogs doing their business, and when they do see them, they can’t find the waste, or don’t look. When vegetative ground cover or long grass obscure the location of dog feces, the soil and groundwater system is polluted, park maintenance staff who weed-whack the area are imperiled, and exploring kids are exposed to the dog doo.

Barking, charging dogs intimidate park users, and because there are all manner of dogs and levels of responsibility by owners, dogs are too often a threat to other dogs, animals, and park users. Some potential park users are deterred from enjoying parks because of the threat of off-leash dogs.

Volunteers and forest stewards who toil to restore native vegetation see their efforts undermined by dogs tearing up the plantings and scraping the soil on a regular basis. During the wet season, dogs in Leschi’s parks (like the grassy level area next to the tennis courts) damage the grass turf and make the park areas less useful for teaching tikes to play soccer or baseball, volleyball games, informal field sports or just walking or lying on the grass.

Contrary to discouraging uncontrolled dogs in open areas, fenced off-leash areas tend to simply encourage more dog owners to exercise their pets outside the fenced areas. We’ve even seen owners throwing balls over the fence to deliberately encourage their dog to jump the fence.

Some cities have experimented with allowing dogs off leash in limited park areas and hours. We should learn from that experience and make sure the conditions at such areas are relevant here, before experimenting with this policy.

But, overall, I think that we need to face up to the realization that we are an urban area with limited park land and various levels of responsibility by dog owners and limited ability to enforce the laws. For the safety of dogs and our fellow urban citizens and for a clean environment, I believe that dogs outside should always be leashed. Public policy should encourage residents to choose small, less needy of exercise, pets and not set up conflicts among the users of parks.

~John Barber

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