(Originally published in the "Rocky Mountain News", I found this on "Dogster, For the Love of Dogs")
Leash-free areas fetch both fans, detractors as pet ownership grows
David Kohl © AP
August 19, 2006
DAYTON, Ohio - Iggy and Bear, two small, mixed-breed dogs, are racing through tunnels on the agility course and watering the trees at the city's new dog park as their owners beam. "This is fantastic," said Bonnie Maschino, Iggy's owner. "If he can come here and run loose, he gets better exercise than walking with me on a leash." Dog parks have multiplied around the country, from 20 in 1995 to more than 600 today, to the delight of frolicking, unleashed pets and the consternation of opponents who fear wear and tear on property, dog fights or even deaths and loss of green space.
In Boulder, large dogs have killed smaller dogs at the parks. Pit bulls have been banned from dog parks in Nashville, Tenn., because they attacked other dogs. A proposal to set aside canine space in a Philadelphia park was roundly rejected by residents reluctant to allow a portion of the historic, heavily used property to go to the dogs.
Matt Claussen, a park ranger in Boulder, said putting a lot of dogs together in a fenced-in area can create a pack mentality.
"It can be very intimidating. I know of one where people won't go anymore because they say it is so scary," Claussen said. "It's a great idea. It works out great for exercise and sociability. But I think it's turned into a free-for-all."
Dog parks are a product of increasing dog ownership, growing recognition that exercise and socializing can reduce canine misbehavior, and the lure of rubbing elbows with fellow dog lovers.
About 43.5 million U.S. households own at least one dog, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association.
That's up from about 35 million in 1990.
Bob Vetere, president of the association, believes the popularity of dog parks will continue to grow as aging baby boomers buy dogs to cope with empty-nest syndrome.
The Dayton park opened in July, offering separate sections for large dogs and small dogs. There are tunnels, hurdles, wading pools and drinking bowls for the dogs, and tents and chairs for their owners. Other dog parks feature ponds, walking paths, fire hydrants, dog showers and lights.
In some cases, the parks are being built because of complaints about dogs.
Columbus is building four - the first in the city - after hearing that unleashed dogs in city parks were fighting, disrupting soccer games and tearing up flower beds.
"Dog issues by far and away are our most frequent complaint in our parks," said Mark Young, assistant director of the Columbus Department of Recreation and Parks. "It's off the chart." Dog parks especially resonate in large cities, where there are numerous apartment dwellers, and many people can't afford homes with large fenced-in yards.
But dog parks aren't welcomed everywhere.
In Philadelphia, a community group voted by more than 3-to-1 in March against opening a dog park in Clark Park, nine acres of green space near the University of Pennsylvania that was established in the late 1800s. Studded with majestic sycamore trees and ringed by stately Victorian houses, the park has a statue of Charles Dickens and was the site of a Civil War hospital that treated wounded soldiers from the Battle of Gettysburg.
Some residents argued that a fenced-in area for dogs is needed because dog fighting had increased, some of the animals scared small children, and not all dog droppings were being scooped up.
Opponents said a dog park would gobble up valuable space used by people, and might destroy grass and trees and result in a high concentration of dog waste.
Creation of the parks has created controversy among some dog owners as well.
After Nashville banned pit bulls from its three dog parks in April, pit bull owners countered that the new rule was discriminatory.
"We knew it would not be a popular decision," said Jackie Jones, superintendent of community affairs for Metro Parks.
Once the dog parks are built in Columbus - probably within 18 months - people won't be able to let their dogs run off-leash in the public parks. Dog owners voiced their opposition to that rule during two years of hearings.
Vincent Volpi, 51, of Columbus, said dog parks are an unnecessary expense to taxpayers. He favors a leash law so dogs are under control in public parks.
"Every park in Columbus is effectively a dog park," he said.
Volpi said he was nipped by a small dog while talking on his cell phone in a park last month and that his 3-year-old daughter has been accosted by dogs in the park.
"They're being friendly, but these dogs are bigger than her," he said. "Now she's scared to death of dogs."
Patrick Murphy, a Boulder-based plant ecologist who runs a small environmental consulting company, campaigned for several years against letting dogs run loose on nature trails in the Boulder area, saying they trampled vegetation and their droppings killed native vegetation and invited weeds. He used a global positioning device to pinpoint 1,492 piles of dog waste on one mile of a trail.
Murphy favors dog parks but said the animals are hard on them.
He said some dog parks in Boulder once had nice tall grass and now are mostly dirt and gravel.
"They're going to be fairly high maintenance," he said.
Despite some controversy, the parks are popular among dog owners who use them. Some dog lovers drink their lattes and chat among themselves or on cell phones while watching their dogs play.
"When you come, it's automatic social time and there is always something to talk about," said Maschino, 54, of Dayton. "It's a show every time."
Fun for Fido
Dog parks have grown in popularity around the country, from 20 in 1995 to more than 600 today.
• What are they? Fenced-in areas with agility courses, tunnels, hurdles, wading pools and other amenities so dogs can run free and play together.
• Downside: Dogfights, loss of green space in existing parks, wear and tear on the property and sometimes an expense to taxpayers.