Don't give off-leash dogs exclusive use of parks | LETTER TO THE EDITOR
August 8, 2012 · Updated 8:36 AM
To the editor:
Karen Ross feels the park board needs to get on board and provide for her dogs off-leash.
My feeling is that in trying to address the issue of the growing number of off-leash dogs in the parks, the board is on board – finally, after many years of failing to enforce their own policies.
I too was at the meeting Ms. Ross attended, and I heard again and again from dog owners that the reason they come to the parks with their dogs off-leash in violation of the park policy is that their dogs need exercise, and that the park board has failed to provide for this.
I understand dogs need exercise. But I disagree with the premise that these taxpayers have somehow been denied their rights.
As a matter of fact, they have the same full access to the parks that any other tax-paying citizen does. They have an additional privilege: Unlike in some cities, many state parks, and all national parks, where dogs are not allowed on the trails period, with or without a leash, dog owners on Bainbridge Island can take their dogs anywhere in the parks provided they are on a leash.
And I question their premise that a dog cannot get the exercise it needs unless it is off-leash. Can a dog be exercised on a leash? Of course, provided the owner is willing to get a little exercise too.
Are dogs happier running off leash? Perhaps, but there are many dog owners who prefer to utilize the parks and trails with their dogs (and others’ dogs) on a leash. So this is not really about taxpayer rights, nor the health of the dog, but more about the personal desires and pleasure of some dog owners.
I suggest that the park board approach this systematically, first things first.
Improve the Eagledale site and establish another enclosed area in one of the parks dedicated specifically to dogs off-leash, as they have been discussing and planning for over a year. Park visitors who don’t want to interact with dogs off-leash can avoid these areas.
Secondly, the park board needs to make clear to the public in an article published in local news media the current policy requiring dogs to be on leash everywhere in the parks except at the Eagledale off-lease area, and the rationale for the policy.
Thirdly, the board needs to have an enforcement program so that all dog owners will understand and accept that they are subject to the laws about dogs off-leash and the responsibility of the owner to pick up dog feces.
Once those three elements are in place, the Park Board and community can consider some of the other options that have been put forth, such as having additional enclosed areas for dogs off-leash, some kind of time sharing arrangement for off-leash dogs, or a “good citizen” certificate that would allow a dog to be off-leash anywhere.
But there are a number of important issues that would need to be resolved before either of these latter two ideas is adopted. And if the board were to adopt anything like this, it should be done on a very limited experimental basis to see how it is working for everyone before opening up all the parks to more off-leash dogs.
I am doubtful at this time that any plan where parks and/or trails are open to dogs off-leash at certain times/days would be a wise decision for the park district, nor will it begin to address the current problem.
First of all, these dog owners are asking for exclusive use of the parks during the time their dogs are running and playing off-leash, denying access to many other citizens: the elderly, people with small children, bicyclists, horseback riders, the many responsible dog owners who walk their dogs on leash, and others who for one reason or another do not want to have an encounter with an unknown dog. No other citizen has this exclusive use of an entire park at any time.
In addition, the dog owners I encounter regularly on the trails with their dogs off-leash clearly consider themselves to be an elite group, to whom the laws don’t apply.
Given this attitude, it’s hard for me to grasp why they would willingly abide by any new set of rules. Which is why some type of enforcement policy will be necessary to get the current situation under control and to ensure that everyone abides by the rules in the future.
The park board needs to develop a plan that provides for an off leash area but that guarantees access to the parks for all citizens of Bainbridge Island, which is not the current situation with dogs running off-leash in all the parks.