Last summer I wrote that Seattle Parks and Recreation is developing the OLA (Off-Lease Areas) Strategic Plan which “will guide the operations of existing OLAs, explore alternative service models and create a strategy for the potential acquisition and development of future OLAs… It will also provide direction on how to spend Park District funding designated for OLAs in ‘2.5 Improve Dog Off-Leash Areas’ funding initiative described in the six year.”
Seattle Dog Owners and Park Users Sound Off
I participated in one of these groups and noticed quickly that most participants split into 2 groups: Dog owners who want more off-leash dog parks vs. people concerned that off-leash dogs are destroying plants and scaring wildlife in parks where dogs are supposed to be on leash. You won’t be surprised to know I was in the more off-leash dog parks group.
These same groups also faced off at the Parks Department’s monthly meeting in Queen Anne.
Although I’m not Catholic, I should make a couple of confessions before I go further:
- I’ve let our dogs off-leash in parks where it’s illegal
- I initially classified the people concerned that off-leash dogs are wrecking Seattle’s parks as dog haters.
But my attitude about the “dog haters” changed as I listened to their stories.
Problems caused by off leash dogs
- One man who is a birdwatcher said that he no longer goes to Discovery Park to enjoy his hobby because off-leash dogs chased off the dozens of bird species that once lived there. The most prevalent bird species there now are crows and sea gulls.
- Representatives of Friends of Martha Washington Parks and Friends of Lincoln Park said off-leash dogs were destroying plants and owners weren’t picking up their dog’s poop
- Elderly people in the group said they can’t go to city parks any longer because they are afraid of getting knocked over and injured by rambunctious off-leash dogs.
By the end of the meeting, I agreed with the “dog haters.”
While I firmly believe that Seattle needs more off-leash dog parks, dog owners do not have the right to keep a significant group of citizens out of city parks because they don’t want to walk their dogs on-leash or take them to an off-leash park.
It’s ridiculous that off-leash dogs are keeping elderly Seattleites out of city parks.
They already have few recreational/exercise options, and taking away their opportunity to enjoy our parks is unfair.
So is robbing people of the chance to birdwatch and tearing up landscaping.
Seattle Leash Law Violations
Seattle Parks notes on its website that people filed 4818 off-leash complaints Seattle Animal Shelter since 2009. They also wrote 411 letters written to Seattle Parks and Recreation since 2010. 41% of them were related to leash violation (164 emails). Complaints fall into the following themes:
- Owners who walk their dog on-leash frustrated by off-leash dogs
- Adults and parents of children feeling threatened by dogs
- Feces create public health concern (e.g., feces in athletic fields, in sand on beaches, playgrounds, etc.)
- Health of natural areas and wildlife (e.g., plant damage, endangered seals on beaches)
- Asset damage (e.g., turf damage on sport fields, run patterns on grass, holes from digging)
Off-leash dogs have cause so much damage in Lincoln Park in West Seattle that an intern for Friends of Lincoln Park working to help restore the forest there decided to observe dog owners and their pets.
In a story on the West Seattle Blog, he said that in the 3 90-minute “samples” he took at different spots in the park, 25% of the dogs he saw were off-leash.
He also told the West Seattle Blog that the effects go beyond the “trampling of plants.”
When that happens, “it’s easier for seeds to disperse and the forest edge to break down.
Those seeds are seldom the desirable ones. Instead, they’re the invasives, the berry-laden plants like ivy, holly, blackberries, cotoneaster.”
Ironically, one of Seattle’s nicer dog parks, Westcrest Park, is minutes away from Lincoln Park. I’ve also seen off-leash dogs at Greenlake Park and Magnuson Park even though both parks have off-leash areas.
How can we expect to get people to support devoting more space to off-leash dog parks when people let their dogs off-leash in restricted areas within minutes of an off-leash area?
Seattle Dog Owners – Please be Courteous
The bottom line is that if dog owners want other people, especially those that use the parks, to respect and support our desire for more off-leash dog parks in Seattle, then we need to respect their desire to go to a city park without worrying about being knocked over by an unleashed dog or stepping in dog poop.
Like I said earlier, I’ve let our dogs off-leash in parks where it isn’t allowed, but not anymore. I now understand more clearly the damage they cause.
And I don’t want to be the reason people without dogs won’t go to a park.
I urge all other Seattle dog owners to do it as well.
The Seattle Parks and Recreation Board will meet to discuss the OLA Strategic Plan this Thursday, February 26 at 6:30 PM at 100 Dexter Avenue North, 98109. The public is welcome to attend.