A Push for Community Dog Parks Sparks Controversy

Image Source: Mayor Richard Bailey’s facebook page

If numbers count for anything, Coronado loves dogs. Seldom does a day go by when you don’t see people out walking their dog, either in your neighborhood, along Orange Avenue or around of the city’s many parks. Indeed, over a third of the households here have at least one pooch. according to Mayor Richard Bailey.

As required by the city, people walk their dogs with a leash. A few people in town, along with Bailey, want to change that by designating a number of community parks where dogs can be off-leash for a few hours a day.

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Being off-leash “offers a wealth of benefits to dogs, their owners, and community as a whole,” according to The Dog Park Handbook published by the American Kennel Club (AKC). “Dogs who are accustomed to playing with animals and people other than their owners are more likely to be well-socialized and react well toward strangers and less likely to create a nuisance, bark excessively and destroy property.”

Bailey agrees. “Personally, I am a dog-lover and I see the benefits for dogs to have a safe place to run and socialize with other dogs.”

Coronado has only two such places: dog beach at the north end of Coronado’s public beach and the Cays dog run. One has limited appeal, not all dogs like the sand or the bath that follows. For many village residents, the Cays is too far to go to on a regular basis.

The idea behind community dog parks is to “put public resources to their highest and best use in serving our community,” Bailey said. “A temporary dog-park could be a great way to see if this type of use is desired by our community.”

Not only would more parks be available, they would also be more accessible. This would prevent one park from being inundated with dogs and turned into another Vetter Park, proponents say. Neighbors there are among the most vocal critics of community dog parks.

For a number of years, Vetter has been used as an unofficial dog park. At one point dog trainers were using it to hold classes. Persistent calls to the police ended the practice for a while.

Local signs banning dogs in parks

Once things quieted down and the police presence ebbed, dog owners came back. Complaints soon followed. The police began regularly patrolling the park and set up a video camera to discourage violators.

Neighbors claimed dog owners were socializing while their dogs romped unsupervised. Something the dog owners dispute. “We are responsible dog owners and should have the same rights as others using the parks,” said Jennie Portelli, who’s shepherd-huskie mix has been playing in the park since she was a puppy. “I shouldn’t have to drive to the Cays Park every day when there’s a lovey park in my own neighborhood.”

“Parks are for people, not dogs,” said Susan Scheklun, who lives near Vetter Park. Scheklun has a 60-pound rescue dog, of an indeterminate breed, that she walks every day and takes to the dog run in the Cays once a week. Seeing what has happened to the turf there has convinced her that allowing dogs to run free in city parks would ruin them. Ruined may be too strong a word, the turf has been ravaged in spots, but there is still plenty of grass.

She also points to safety concerns for both children and dogs. Children could be hurt by an aggressive dog. She says she knows of one incident where a boy was nipped by a dog. Without a fence surrounding the park, dogs are put at risk. In its dog park handbook, the AKC does recommend a four-to-six foot chain linked fence to prevent dogs from running into the street. None of the community parks will be fenced, but the Cays dog run does not have a fence, leash-free park proponents are quick to note.

PAWS (who operates the city’s Animal Care Facility) does see a problem. “We see the benefits of off-leash for dogs, but without barriers we are concerned about the animals’ safety,” said Sharon Sherman, the animal welfare organization’s president. A dog bolting into the street and getting hit by a car is but one concern. Fights breaking out is another. These objections have been voiced by other animal advocacy groups, including the AKC and the Humane Society.

“We would not let any of our dog walkers take a shelter dog off-leash in any of the proposed parks and they are professional dog handlers,” she added.

Proponents brush aside these concerns and focus instead on the advantages, i.e. having more than one off-leash park would take the pressure off Vetter Park. Neighbors don’t believe it. Most are convinced that theirs is the only park under consideration.

They cite an “executive summary” ostensibly written by Roger Miller, the director of recreation, that says Vetter Park is the only place an off-leash park could be located. Miller said that no such summary exists. “There is no information, until there is information,” he said.

When we spoke on Friday the staff report had not been completed. Without a staff report, there can be no executive summary of a staff report. One will be included in the agenda for the February 20 city council meeting, when community dog parks will be considered.

The release of a staff report won’t necessarily end the controversy. It may even exacerbate it, when residents learn that their neighborhood park is under consideration. NIMBYism has not gone out of fashion here. Residents seldom want things to change, especially in their neighborhoods. Objections raised by the Vetter Park folks could well echo across the island.

Two years ago the community’s reaction to bike lane striping on the streets bought dozens of residents to city hall to protest and landed the city council on national television. This year it could be dog parks.

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A freelance writer in San Diego for more than 30 years. She has written for a number of national and international newspapers, including the Times of London, San Diego Tribune, Sierra Magazine, Reuters News Service and Patch.Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: manager@ecoronado.com