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Advocate group looks for Capitol Hill support for more off-leash dog parks

(Image: City of Seattle)

(Image: City of Seattle)

The forecast this week calls for the dog days of summer, but dogs in Seattle don’t have many options for relief from the heat.

Dogs are only allowed to swim at Magnuson Park, which has 145 feet of shoreline.

Citizens for Off-Leash Areas, or COLA, wants to change that. The group wants more waterfront parks open to dogs and more off-leash options in general that are within walking distance of every dog owner. Organizers see it as much more than an issue of play and lakeside fun. COLA reps say resources for dog owners are a social justice issue in a city supposedly tackling equity issues across its neighborhoods. Meanwhile, Seattle’s population is set to soar to 750,000 by 2020. About one out of three of the new residents will bring dogs.

Seattle Parks and Recreation released a draft “People, Dogs and Parks Plan” in June following a study about what dog owners want and what the demand is for off-leash areas. The full proposed plan is at the bottom of this post. COLA was not impressed.

“It was really clear when this draft was released that the Parks Department was committed to maintaining their war on dogs,” said Cole Eckerman, executive director of COLA.

Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 10.22.10 AMEckerman gave a presentation at the Capitol Hill Community Council meeting Thursday about the issue. She is going to communities in Seattle discussing it. A public hearing on the plan is scheduled on Capitol Hill in September:

The Draft People, Dogs and Parks Plan is now posted for public reviewed and comment.  The Draft, released for public review on June 21, 2016, will not be finalized until December 2016.

A public hearing by the Board of Park Commissioners (Board) will be held:

September 22, 2016
Miller Community Center
6:30 p.m.

Public testimony at the Board meeting will be limited to two minutes per person.  Public comment may also be submitted in writing and will have equal weight as oral testimony.  Written comments should be addressed to: Rachel.Acosta@Seattle.Gov and should be submitted by October 14, 2016.

This plan has also been sent to the Seattle City Council who may review it in the Parks, Seattle Center, Libraries and Waterfront Committee.  The Superintendent will finalize the plan after considering public testimony, receiving recommendations from the Board,  and receiving input from the Seattle City Council.

Dog park advocates say one problem with the survey used in creating the master plan is a familiar issue — it didn’t include a diverse representation of Seattle residents.

Eckerman said there are more than 150,000 dogs in Seattle and about 35% of households in Seattle have a dog. But Eckerman says the city’s survey — 86% of respondents were white vs. 69% in the total population — the plan proposal is based on doesn’t adequately represent Seattle’s dog-loving population:

There is also just not enough space for the dogs and off-leash areas aren’t close enough to dog owners, COLA says.

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. An off-leash area is within 2.5 miles of all residences, except for northern West Seattle and southeast southeast Seattle, according to the Park Department’s $104,000 plan.

New York City, San Francisco, Portland and Vancouver, British Columbia, have an average of 120 acres of off-leash space.

Seattle’s plan calls for parks to provide $106,000 annually through 2020 to improve existing off-leash areas. The longterm plan could include gradually add new ones and an increase in enforcement but the framework of the proposed plan doesn’t go beyond the spend over the next five years.

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 inVolunteer Park. One was scrapped because it was too muddy while the other received too many complaints from nearby homeowners.

A proposal to create unfenced off-leash areas in spaces including Cal Anderson Park didn’t make the plan’s final cut. Parks recommends continuing to only have fenced off-leash areas and does not support leash-optional trails or any more off-leash beaches, COLA says. The city is also recommending licensing and certifications requirements for dog walkers.

Eckerman said COLA doesn’t want all dogs to be off-leash in all parks at all areas.

“We know that’s not a good idea,” she said.

But dog owners and their dogs need more space to exercise, according to COLA.

“The results from all of these were all very, very clear,” Eckerman said. “The worst thing that the Parks Department could do would be nothing, would be to maintain the status quo. Dogs need more places to swim, we need more off-leash areas and they need to be more accessible.”

COLA, a nonprofit for dog owners, is looking for support from community members to urge Parks to include those things in its plan. Those interested in supporting COLA can visit its website seattlecola.org. You can also learn more at seattle.gov.

The city’s draft plan is currently up for public review. The plan is scheduled to be finalized in October.

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lee
lee
4 years ago

Please….not in Cal Anderson, unless it’s a fenced off area.

Steve
Steve
4 years ago

The entitlement, it’s suffocating me.

Whichever
Whichever
4 years ago

How about they poll ALL park users instead of the dog people. Obviously they’re going to be biased towards anything dog-related.

Oh boo hoo
Oh boo hoo
4 years ago

COLA has misunderstood the definition of equity and social justice. That doesn’t make me sympathetic.

I hope Sparky enjoys his 28 acres, the thousands of dollars the city has already spent on his parks plan, and the public space this city has already gifted him and his owners. I hope Sparky also appreciates the huge amount of parks and right of way he can enjoy on leash with his owner[s].

Hugh
Hugh
4 years ago

Okay, I love dogs. They are great. But let’s encourage folks to accept some responsibility when they choose to have a pet. Perhaps think through the needs of this pet. Maybe select a breed that doesn’t need significant exercise. it’s a little like someone who buys a house beneath an airport landing area because it’s affordable and then complains about the noise. Please don’t expect everyone in the city to fund your life choices. Oh, and please don’t bring your dog into the grocery stores unless they are service animals. It’s against the law and again forces everyone to indulge in your choices.

Steve
Steve
4 years ago

“Please don’t expect everyone in the city to fund your life choices”

Hugh – we all fund each others’ lifestyle choices all the time. People choose to have kids, and we have public playgrounds and schools. People choose to live on islands and we have subsidized ferries and bridges. Ah, but dogs aren’t necessary like education and transportation, you say? Well we have public golf courses, publicly funded sports stadiums, public grants to the arts, publicly managed waterways used by pleasure boats, public television, etc. etc. It’s all part of living in a community.

Oh boo hoo
Oh boo hoo
4 years ago
Reply to  Steve

You’re confused – some of those are social goods that we all generally benefit from (education, parks, roads) and some are investments for the wealthy and “economic development” interests that historically don’t pay for themselves (public stadiums, subsidized travel for island inhabitants, public golf courses). Just because the public has paid for some of these things now or in the past doesn’t make them without controversy or a requisite component of “living in a community.”

Should we be paying for everyone’s preferred recreation? I don’t have a problem with pets, but I think there is a limit to how much the general public should have to pay to subsidize essentially private (and often privileged, I might add) preferences.

One can own a dog and take it many places on a leash. We all win! Safe for dog and owner and allows parks to be safely used by all people.

Whichever
Whichever
4 years ago
Reply to  Steve

Oh boo hoo has hit it right on the head. And honestly, dogs are everywhere anyways – most times in places they shouldn’t be. Dogs are not people, they shouldn’t be treated as such.

Steve
Steve
4 years ago
Reply to  Steve

OhBooHoo: So the argument *for* public stadiums, subsidized travel for island inhabitants, and public golf courses is that they are “investments for the wealthy and “economic development” interests that historically don’t pay for themselves”. But the argument *against* more dog parks is that they represent “essentially private (and often privileged, I might add) preferences”. And you say I’m the one who is confused!

Of course there is a limit to how much the general public should have to pay to subsidize preferences. You and I agree on that. We just disagree on the exact value of that limit in this case. Given the sheer (and growing) number of dog owners in the city, I think there ought to be a few more dog parks. Like maybe 3 or 4 more small out-of-the way sections of existing large parks. That’s all.

But please re-read Hugh’s original comment. He didn’t say there is a limit to how much we should subsidize preferences. He said: “Please don’t expect everyone in the city to fund your life choices.” Full stop. I was simply pointing out that, on its own, this is a vacuous policy statement.

And for the multiple people who, as always, say that dog owners don’t need more options because they break the law and bring their dogs where they shouldn’t anyway: please remember that many of us follow the law religiously. But you don’t notice our existence or that of our dogs because we don’t have them where we shouldn’t. Using the existence of rule-breakers to argue against any and all new facilities is like saying we never need to build new roads because lots of people speed.

Steve
Steve
4 years ago
Reply to  Steve

And note that my dog is only 10 years old and only 15 pounds – I never go to dog parks myself. My support for a few more dog parks has nothing to do with my own needs, and everything to do with recognizing the needs for others in the city at large.

Dave L
Dave L
4 years ago

In a Parks Board discussion about the off-leash area in Lower Kinnear Park, the Park department’s liaison to COLA (in an interesting conflict of interest given the impacts of off-leash areas on trees, she was also in charge of sustainability at Parks), arguing that the off-leash area should be made permanent, said that dog owners were treating all of Upper Kinnear Park as an off-leash area, though it isn’t one. Dog owners ignore leash regulations all over the city.

The original City Council policy document for off-leash areas called for a few in named parks but stated that Parks should ask COLA to find non-Park property for other future off-leash areas. This has not been done. It also called for thorough environmental assessments of the effects of off-leash areas on parks. This has never been done, and though Parks arborists have reported serious damage to trees from urine and soil compaction, Parks administrators have publicly denied any ill effects.

bhop
bhop
4 years ago

I get that not everyone is a fan of dogs. But dogs aren’t going away from Seattle anytime soon. As a community we can either embrace and accommodate them (and their owners) or we can offer no improvements and things will get much worse. There’s a reason we build skateboard parks, bike lanes, and public docks. They fulfill a want within the community that recognizes that not having these things is a far worse alternative.

Kat
Kat
4 years ago

No. I have a dog whom I love dearly but I’m with the previous poster who stated that it is the owners responsibility to keep exercised an appropriately-sized dog. I am fed up with people who don’t keep their dogs on a leash (and it is usually guys who apparently want to impress everybody with the fact that their dog will come on command — which isn’t always the case). I’ve encountered one too many unleashed dogs that are aggressive towards my leashed dog and I don’t feel that the City ought to take on the legal consequences should another animal or person be harmed as a result of such dog attacks. Plus, the City of Seattle is supposed to pay for 2 more “Dog Enforcement Officers” who may or may not be on the spot to intercede in the event of a problem. Uh-uh. I love my dog, as I said, but I love her enough to make certain we BOTH get adequate exercise and that she is protected from harm.

Kikjou Delatour
4 years ago

I don’t think that dogs thrive well in a city environment, especially with density growing. If you, a dog owner, need a friend, how about a human one? There are many lonely people in this city who don’t poop on lawns, shed in grocery stores or bark all day while you are at work.

Whichever
Whichever
4 years ago

People are too fickle for the average codependent dog owner. People will remember when you wronged them, whereas a dog, whose sole instinct is to survive by being fed and cared for (what their owners misconstrue as love) will generally forgive their owners for whatever they do.