Submitted by Carren J. Stika
There has been a recent discussion regarding a proposal to enact a trial period to evaluate the pros and cons of establishing an off-leash park policy at various community parks in Coronado. As a dog owner, I feel a great need to express my thoughts regarding this issue.
My husband and I have a golden retriever who requires running and socializing with other dogs on a regular basis. Up until a couple of months ago, at 4:30 pm, we would take our dog to a neighborhood park where he met a few of his four-legged buddies. They played and had a grand time! It was the highlight of his day! But honestly, it was something my husband and I also looked forward to. We met some of the NICEST people at the park – folks that we never would have met had we not all come together for the primary purpose of allowing our dogs to play and socialize with each other. We’ve gotten together with these new friends for dinners, birthdays (both for owners and dogs), and going away parties. These new friends and their four-legged companions make me glad to have moved to Coronado and be able to call this “home.”
Well, that was a few months ago – before a couple of owners of homes adjacent to Vetter Park began calling the police to alert them that dogs were off leash at the park. According to regulation, once called, the police had to come. They would arrive and kindly remind us that our dogs needed to be kept on leash. Of course, many of these police officers, being dog-lovers themselves, learned all our dogs’ names, told us about their own dogs, sympathized with our situation, and encouraged us to request City Council to consider an off-leash policy at parks. Although they needed to do their job, they also had a hard time understanding why a community like Coronado could not support at least a few off-leash parks. We respectfully kept our dogs on leash, but this proved not particularly fun for the dogs or for us. At one point we noticed that video cameras and motion detector lights had been installed around the park to track the culprits who dared to defy the on-leash-only ruling! Sadly, we stopped bringing our dogs to the park.
A couple of letters have been published (written by the home owners that regularly called the police), complaining of the aggressive dogs that were left to run off leash by their irresponsible owners. What a mess these dogs created! The piles of dog poop that the owners failed to pick up! The fear that these off-leash dogs instilled in young children, which kept families from being able to enjoy the community park! They urged folks not to consider establishing off-leash parks in our community unless Coronado welcomed the denigrative effects this would bring.
I must respond to these charges. I can assure that the dogs didn’t prevent children from playing at the park while we were there for one hour during the evening. One family who lives across the street regularly brought their young sons over to the park while we were there so that the boys could play with the dogs. Teenagers came by to play Frisbee and encouraged the dogs to play along. Folks across the street walked over to say “hi.” This was “community” by the very definition of the term! Aggressive dogs? There were no dog fights that I ever witnessed. No aggression towards people that I ever saw. My goodness, our dog is being trained to serve as a therapy dog for children with disabilities! And, what about the complaint that fecal messes were left that owners failed to pick up? We always picked up after our dogs and each other’s dogs — and even regularly picked up droppings left by folks who must have walked across the park at various odd hours and, when no one was looking, didn’t pick up after their pooch.
The beauty of Coronado is that it has numerous neighborhood parks, all within walking distance of every household. The fact that Coronado does not have a few community parks with “off leash” hours for residents who have dogs (of which there are many) makes absolutely no sense to me. Almost every community within San Diego proper hosts such parks. Why can’t Coronado — known as the family-oriented, friendly community — do the same?
Here’s my suggestion: Rather than assigning one park to be “off leash,” I would suggest that a couple of parks be designated “off leash” for a couple of hours in the early evening, during the time when most people come home from work and when dogs are most active and need to burn off energy. The off-leash period would not need to be long — at most 2 hours. But allowing a couple of parks to be off-leash would enable neighborhoods to come together, people and dogs could walk there from their homes, and it would encourage consistency with who attends. It also would keep the number of dogs to a minimal [amount] at a given time, rather than a mass of dogs running around.
I do hope that this community and those on the council who will be considering this proposal will understand how important this issue is to those who live here and own dogs. Socialized dogs (and socialized owners of dogs) make for a happy community.
Carren J. Stika