Seattle has ramped up enforcement of dog laws. A park ranger and two animal control officers are patrolling high-complaint city parks on a rolling basis for violations of animal control laws including off leash citations, missing dog tags, and lack of waste bags. The fees related to these citations can add up quickly.
Woodland Park, location of Wallyhood’s local off leash dog park, is one of three high complaint parks to be targeted. So be aware next time you head out with your dog for some exercise.
The chart at right shows the location and frequency of 4,818 off-leash dog complaints
in the city of Seattle since the 2009. Not surprisingly, the most complaints come from Seattle’s largest parks: Woodland, Magnuson, and Discovery.
Hard data is hard to find on just how many citations are being written since the ramp up began earlier this year, but anecdotal evidence from the Wallyhood discussion board and the Wallingford/Fremont Facebook group suggests enforcement is up.
Those online communities showcase that dogs are a charged topic in the neighborhood: where we put their waste, where we exercise them, and how we treat them have all been hotly debated here in Wallyhood and throughout the city. The city has heard the complaints, and has launched a process for collecting your feedback.
The People, Dogs, and Parks Strategic Plan will be released in draft form on June 11th, and the city wants your input on the strategic plan.
We now segue to the more opinionated section of the article for one possible way to view a strategy for dogs.
Dogs and people have co-existed for millennia, so the dogs are not going anywhere, and as more people arrive, they will bring along more dogs. We have tried yelling “Get off my lawn!” and that has not worked terribly well as witnessed by the continued complaints and frustrations on all sides.
The increased enforcement and mounting fees highlight that the city views dogs as a liability. Something to regulated, and fines assessed for violating those regulations. Citizens for Off-Leash Areas have run the off-leash parks since their inception in 1997. The city donated land, and COLA agreed to maintain the facilities from their own revenues. Since 1997, no additional land has been provided nor have funds been directed to assist in maintenance. In that time, the city’s population (both human and canine) have expanded tremendously. In response to the growth, the city has simply ramped up enforcement. Again, the city views off leash areas as a liability.
Alternatively, off leash areas can be viewed as an asset. Speaking from my own experience, the dog park is the only place where I will regularly converse amiably with homeless people, blue collar workers, and white collar workers on a common topic: dogs. It is also somewhat unique in that off leash parks are a public good that directly supports entrepreneurship in the form of the robust dog walker industry (regulation and licensing of dog walkers is also part of the strategic plan, and possible topic for later article). It also so happens that COLA has a similar view of dog parks as an asset.
I spoke with Ellen Escarcega, the current Chair of COLA, and she has collected some useful information on how other cities view off leash areas. She emphasized that Seattle has only 25 acres of off leash areas with 15 acres represented by only two parks. Vancouver has 168 acres. Additionally, Vancouver allows mixed use spaces for off leash use. For example, times of limited park utilization are open for off leash use. For example, before 9 am on weekdays, upper woodland park would be available for off leash use. People could exercise their dogs before work and have negligible impact on other legitimate uses of the park.
Dogs are here to stay. We can continue to view them as a liability and shake our fists when their presence increasingly frustrates us. Alternatively, we can view them as an asset for a diverse and vibrant community, and support their expansion commiserate with expansion of other public assets.
Pick your point of view, and let city council know your thoughts when the release their draft plan next month.