Letters to the Editor

Dogs deserve more than fenced off-leash areas | LETTER TO THE EDITOR

    - Bainbridge Island Review photo
— image credit: Bainbridge Island Review photo

Open letter to the Bainbridge Parks Board:

As dog owners, people who walk with their dog, trail stewards, and 15-plus year residents of Bainbridge Island, my husband and I again respectfully request an opportunity to use our island trail systems for off-leash dog walking on a rotating schedule.

As Julie Hall pointed out in her March 14 editorial published by Inside Bainbridge, the dog-walking constituency on the island is quite large, and significantly underserved. We deserve inclusion, not exclusion and isolation.

Our family and others like it, have routinely voted to approve the taxes and levies which support our schools, pools, play fields, recreational programs, and skateboard parks, etc. We do this regardless of the fact that that we personally have no children and may not necessarily use the facilities we vote to support; we consider ourselves members of a greater community that has asked us to help pay for facilities and programs important to its other members.

As dog owners and walkers, we are tired of being marginalized by Bainbridge Island Metro Parks & Rec District Board policies and offended by its continued lack of interest in decades’ worth of requests by other island dog walkers for some off-leash access to our trails systems.

The board has proposed, instead, building some small dog parks which have significant disadvantages:

• All of the proposed areas are very small and grossly inadequate for people who actively play or walk with their dogs. Some dogs and their people will find the proposed parks felicitous; this is a good thing. The parks will not suffice for the many who like to walk and play with our dogs as the areas are simply too small.

• Just as many other dog owners have stated in previous public meetings and letters over time, the south portion of Battle Point Park is a seasonal pond for many months a year. It is well documented that dog owners have objected to and failed to use the Eagledale dog park for just that reason. The parks board would never propose such boggy or seasonal pond areas for soccer fields or kids’ playgrounds; why should dog owners accept such poor sites? The classic definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

While some people will benefit from the proposed dog parks, scores of dog walkers have asked the board to consider part-time use of trails for off-leash dog walking. Other local, national and international towns and cities have successfully established such programs, which the board has consistently rebuffed for two reasons. The board receives complaints from park users about off-leash dogs and states that any off-leash plan is hard to administer.

While there are undeniable instances of problem dogs and dog owners, I posit that the board is partly to blame for complaints as, to date, there has been no viable alternative for off-leash dog walking.

I make three suggestions to address the apparently insurmountable administrative obstacles:

1.    You are intelligent, well-educated, hard-working people who are able to solve complicated issues. We firmly believe that if you put your minds to it, you can come up with a viable program methodology. Explore how other jurisdictions do it.

2.    Ask dog walkers for help as we are not the enemy. That people some flaunt the rules currently and walk off-leash with their pets is a reflection of the fact that this group is severely underserved by current parks rules and has no practical alternatives.

3.    At one point, the board proposed to hire an independent agency to monitor and police trail use. This idea can still be incorporated into a rotational use plan. Dog owners pay taxes; some of which should be directed for this use, this if necessary.

Our proposal, offered before, is that the all but two of the trails on the island be made available to off-leash use on a rotating basis:

• Divide the trails into two sets; each set including north- and south-end trails. Provide that on certain days of the week, trails are posted as open to off-leash use. One example is to make set “A” available on even days and set “B” available on odd days. On any given day, multiple trails are open to hikers, dog-walkers, horseback riders, and bicyclists.

• Remove Battle Point Park and the Manzanita trails from the equation. A fenced, non-swampy dog park at Battle Point would help many, but the main park itself would continue to require dogs on leashes. Manzanita is used extensively for horses and it makes sense that riders have their own trail.

• Make any day a complete 24-hour cycle so that all residents may utilize the entire available day. A few hours here or there would potentially penalize people who work early, late, off-island, etc.

We work hard to do right by our dog and to be responsible; we pick up after her and continue to train on every walk. We want to enjoy long walks with our dog, providing her with the opportunity to sniff and play. We can’t do this in a small, fenced yard.

Finally, please install garbage cans at trailheads to encourage trash-picking and dog waste pickup. We repeat our semi-annual request for porta-potties near major trail heads, the use of which would be appreciated by people with and without dogs.

MARTHA TURNBULL

Bainbridge Island

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