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Making sense of the dog park debate | LETTER TO THE EDITOR
To the editor:
Can we teach on old island dog park plan some new tricks?
Sitting like a good dog at two recent meetings of the Bainbridge Island parks department, it's become clear why we islanders may be "dog smart" but are "dog park stupid."
Our well-intentioned parks staff and community volunteers have approached the question all wrong — as if it were a recreational issue, like the aquatic center. Dog parks are a "usability" project!
What's the difference? A usability study looks at how people actually use dog parks, day in and day out, real time in real terms, and figures out how to satisfy the need, quickly and efficiently. We're not trying to reinvent the concept of dog parks as shape-shifting, off-leash areas. Any dog expert, trainer, breeder or vet strongly advises against turning dogs loose on trails or parks. That's a "straw dog" issue.
1. The number one utility for a "dog park," any dog park, is "controlled exercise," the ability for dogs to run and socialize with other dogs in an ample but contained, space where animals can be easily controlled and reined in when the (inevitable) dogfights arise. Parks that are too large or too wide for dog-human management, which give room for to dogs run away from their owners, are not useful.
2. Frequent access is the second utility factor. Dog exercise is not a once-a-month proposition. Accessible "dog areas" will attract weekly, even twice-weekly, visits — at a minimum. "Doggie lots" should be situated at several locations across the island in proximity to dog-filled neighborhoods and within a few steps from convenient parking.
3. Dog parks need to have mixed ground cover that is: a.) dry enough so that dogs do not become a dirty mess that soil car interiors and clothing on each visit, or require dog showers or cleanup on exit. b.) be set up with a gravel drainage field for canine urination, and c.) have minimal surface vegetation so that easy pickup and disposal of feces is possible. This is the pitfall of our solitary, (barely used), dog park at Eagledale that is hilly and inaccessible to many. It is a mosh pit!
4. Dog parks need to be plumbed for a drinking water faucet to refill drinking bowls.
Finally, lets separate fantasy from reality.
Myth One: We can get by with one dog park. The current plan to build four - two at Battle Point, another for small dogs in town off Madison and one at Strawberry Hill. That's a good start only if they all get built, an epic fail if just one or two is implemented. Having only one dog park is as silly as having only one "people park." It's like building a velodrome near the Vincent Road land fill for bike riding and doing away with bicycle lanes. Our needs are broad based.
Myth Two: Dog parks should allow owners to walk next to their dogs, off-leash, among trails and trees. Huh?! Can't owners do that now in any park of forest? Side-by-side walks are an "on-leash" activity. Besides, dog parks exist to let dogs socialize with other dogs - they prefer it that way - they see their owners 24/7.
Myth Three: Off-leash "time shifting" in existing parks and trails could quickly solve the problem. How great that would be if only it were true! It is a dog's "animal instinct" to chase squirrels, birds, critters and, (ask the runners), island trail joggers, some breeds excited more readily than others. Left to their own "instincts," our beloved dogs would disappear, some into oncoming traffic, others to scare or bite kids. No matter how well trained a few dogs may be, the "ALL off-leash" idea is a recipe for disaster. But let's not let this "straw dog" cause even more delay?
We are a dog-centric community on Bainbridge that needs communal areas for our dogs. Therefore, we should expect leadership from our parks department to meet the needs of a majority of citizens and their canine companions.
The parks department can't please all the people all the time. But they can and should address the needs of the vast majority of dog-owning households.