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Off-leash dog parks: Will Seattle go to the dogs?

Many homeless people struggle with caring for themselves and their pets. (AP)

The city council will eventually have to decide whether or not to unleash Seattle’s parks. And creating more off-leash dog parks doesn’t sit well with some in town.

“In 1995, when off-leash areas were set up, there was an implicit agreement that if dog owners had off-leash areas there would no longer be dogs running free in the parks,” Ellen Taft said at a council committee meeting on parks Thursday morning.

The council is considering recommendations for the future of off-leash dog parks in the city.

“We still have the same problem 20 years later,” Taft said. “I oppose increasing the number of off-leash areas in Seattle because only 20 percent of dog owners license their pets.”

Taft heads up Citizens for the Protection of Volunteer Park, which opposes many dog uses in Seattle parks. KING 5 reports that Taft has a rough history with dogs in Seattle — her child was attacked by three dogs in the ’90s, and she reports being chased by multiple dogs while running. She also reportedly favors limiting the city’s allowable limit of dogs per household to one — it’s currently three.

Arguments to restrict and place limitations on Seattle’s off-leash dog parks range from public safety to claims the parks devolve into mud puddles filled with bacteria. The bacteria is from dog feces which gets washed into area waters.

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But not everyone agrees with Taft. The meeting also spotlighted a fair number of pro-dog residents, who note that Seattle has more dogs than children. In fact, the ratio of dogs to kids is about 1.4 dogs to one child in Seattle. Side note: It’s not much different when it comes to bike ownership.

“Off-leash areas are gathering places not only for dogs, but dog owners,” said Nicole Eckerman, president of Citizens for Off-Leash Areas in Seattle — known as COLA.

“While Seattle has provided playgrounds for families with children to recreate, the city has been too slow to recognize the recreation needs of pet owners,” she said. “(Off-leash areas) are the playgrounds for families of the K9 community. Now, more than ever, we need places that foster community in our neighborhoods.”

Seattle’s off-leash dog parks

Seattle’s off-leash dog parks began in the ’90s when some parks were tested out, and seven were made permanent. Over the last couple of years, the city developed further plans for dog parks which includes $106,000 to fund maintenance and improvement of existing dog parks.

The parks department also wants to support efforts of groups like COLA to get funding to create more off-leash dog parks, and to help start a public engagement process to develop 3-4 pilot parks. The council was advised that possible sites are Hubbard Homestead Park, Stone Way at 125th Street, Maple Leaf Reservoir, and Adams Street Boat Ramp.

The city council’s committee on parks met Thursday morning to review recommendations for future dog park regulations. The message from the Parks and Recreation Department to the council was:

• Licensed dogs should be allowed on-leash in all Seattle parks, except for children’s playgrounds and ball fields.
• A recommendation of incrementally increasing the number of Seattle off-leash dog parks after community engagement process.
• Support groups like COLA creating dog parks off of public land.
• Encourage private developers to create their own off-leash parks.
• Only promote fenced off-leash parks on city land.
• Do not promote leash-optional trails.
• Require dog walkers to become certified and licensed in Seattle.

The proposal by the Parks and Recreations Department does not create a blueprint for future off-leash parks, rather, it sets up a process. Advocates, veterinarians and animal behaviorists, etc. will be involved in the process to create new parks.

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