Dog parks inspire a special kind of divisiveness within Seattle’s civic skirmishes. With limited public park space, opponents of expanding off-leash areas say human activities should get top priority in park planning. Off-leash supporters say their interests deserve equal consideration.
Nevertheless, dogs are here to stay and Seattle Parks and Recreation is working on a plan to determine how best to accommodate them. Seattle’s canine population has reached an estimated 150,000 with no signs of slowing. The city is now reviewing its 19-year-old policy governing dog parks and considering some new ideas, including adding unfenced, off-leash areas inside public parks.
The idea is backed by Citizens for Off-Leash Areas, who say parks like Cal Anderson could implement the policy already working in other cities. “Dog owners are being pushed into scofflaws because they don’t have options,” said COLA executive director Cole Eckerman.
According to Eckerman, allowing dogs to be off-leash during certain times of the day at certain parks could reduce dog bites by increasing opportunities for exercise, create legal solutions to accommodate the city’s growing dog population, and yes, even deter nighttime crime. Eckerman also said allowing “multi-use” dog areas is an equity issue as many lower income neighborhoods lack traditional off-leash areas.
Portland has 24 unfenced, off-leash areas which are restricted to certain areas and times — a model COLA says could be replicated in Seattle. Typically, new dog parks are first piloted by the parks department and then approved by the City Council. Dewey Potter, the parks department’s unofficial off-leash expert, said a similar process would likely be used if the city decides to move ahead with unfenced dog areas. It’s unclear how many dog parks or off-leash areas Seattle could add in the near future, Potter said.
Seattle currently has 28 acres of fenced off-leash areas spread across 14 parks, including around Capitol Hill at Plymouth Pillars Park and the I-5 Colonnade. City policy recommends placing new dog parks away from playgrounds or adjacent to residential properties, which could be difficult to maintain if the city allows dogs to roam in unfenced areas.
Some of those criteria were actually developed in response to Seattle’s early experiments with off leash areas on Capitol Hill. In the late 1990s the parks department piloted two dog parks in Volunteer Park. One was scrapped because it was too muddy while the other received too many complaints from nearby homeowners.
The city’s dog parks report will not include any specific site recommendations, Potter said, but it will offer some suggestions for how to better accommodate dog owners as demand for all types of park space continues to grow.
Other recommendations include how to improve existing dog parks. The parks department plans to release its report
June 11th at a date to be determined.
Images courtesy facebook.com/capitolhilldogs