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.
Eckerman 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
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.