Residents debate Raleigh’s proposed restrictions on dogs in parks

ccampbell@newsobserver.comMay 22, 2013 

Jose Perez uses his smartphone while his dog, Dakota, takes a break from playing in the Oakwood Dog Park. Perez says he brings Dakota to the dog park everyday.

CASEY TOTH

— Dog owners squared off with other city park users at a heated public hearing Wednesday night on a proposal to ban pets at city athletic fields and playgrounds.

Raleigh already requires park visitors to clean up after their pets, and unleashed animals are allowed only behind the fences of the city’s three dog parks. But the proposed ban goes a step further, allowing the city to ban dogs from playgrounds, athletic fields, basketball courts and other sports facilities. Even on a leash, man’s best friend would have to watch ball games and kids at play from outside the fence.

The proposed rule change also would require leashes of six feet or shorter on greenways and in parks; fines for leash and “pooper scooper” scofflaws would be increased.

City parks officials say they’ve dealt with dog droppings disrupting Little League games, safety issues with children encountering dogs on playgrounds and long leashes tripping bicyclists. On greenways, dog-related “injuries have ranged from minor cuts and bruises to ruptured organs,” said Wayne Schindler, parks superintendent. He added that some city parks and greenways have even been used to train animals for dogfighting.

Several speakers Wednesday told a city parks committee that stricter rules are needed. Arlene Sanders said her dog was attacked by a leashless pet at an Oakwood neighborhood playground. “When I asked the lady about putting the dog on a leash, she didn’t want to hear about it,” Sanders said. “I guess she thought it was her park. I’d like to see that park remain a place that those kids can play freely.”

But Sanders and others who support tighter restrictions were in the minority at the hearing. Many dog owners said they’d back a playground ban and higher fines, but the ban at sports facilities and the short leash requirement drew fire.

Clodagh Bastian said she’s a 15-minute drive from the nearest dog park, so she and her neighbors take their dogs to athletic fields when they aren’t in use. “I believe it would be a huge disservice for the community to make the athletic fields off-limits to dogs,” she said. “The city parks are created to serve the whole community.”

Informal mascots

Bastian and others said they’re responsible dog owners who clean up after their pets and shouldn’t be penalized for those who don’t. Some said dogs are an integral part of kickball games at city parks, sometimes dressed in team T-shirts as informal mascots. The new rules would end that practice.

Dog owners also said the city needs to build more dog parks, noting that Raleigh has more than 100 kids’ parks but only three for dogs. No more dog parks are funded in the coming years.

Sarah Green said the problems the parks department has noticed are “just symptoms of insufficient alternatives for responsible pet owners.”

“We are all taxpayers, so prohibiting us from using these parks without providing alternatives isn’t the way to go,” she said.

Discouraging dogs?

Others pointed to the increasing number of condos and apartments in and around downtown; as more residents live without yards, their pets will need places to exercise. Some dog owners worry that tougher rules would discourage pet ownership and harm area shelters.

“Fewer people are going to want to have dogs, and that’s going to kill dogs in our shelters,” Beth Levine said.

The parks committee made no decision on the proposed rules Wednesday and will debate the issue in June before making a recommendation to the Raleigh City Council.

Campbell: 919-829-4802 or twitter.com/RaleighReporter

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