Denver Direct: Dog park supporters forming advocacy group

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Dog park supporters forming advocacy group

By Catherine Calder for Denver Direct

While numerous Denverites continue to question certain recommendations of the city’s Dog Park Master Plan, such as off-leash areas in City Park and proposed usage fees, there is widespread support for a citizen-led dog park support group.

Denver Parks and Recreation (DPR) recently conducted a meeting to bolster what the Master Plan identifies as a need for “a long-term and well-established partnership.” Parks personnel said the Denver group would be similar to Citizens for Off Leash Areas (COLA), SFDOG, and NYC Dogs (pronounced “nice”) in other cities. These are nonprofit groups, led by volunteers, which support off-leash dog parks in metropolitan areas.

The idea of an advocacy group is not new. Dog parks in Denver were established through the efforts of DenFidos, a community based organization that formed in 1999. The difference is that DenFidos formed independently of Parks and Recreation because of the unresponsiveness of Parks officials. Larry Ambrose and Oneida Meranto founded DenFidos and lobbied then Mayor Wellington Webb to allow dog parks.

Over two dozen people were expected at the DPR meeting, but cold weather diminished attendance to only ten interested Denver residents. These dog park advocates represented Vanderbilt Park, City Park, Congress Park, Cook Park, Washington Park, Southeast Denver, University of Denver, Sloan’s Lake and Whittier/Northeast Denver.

While everyone expressed willingness to work with Parks on off-leash dog parks and responsible dog ownership, almost everyone seemed displeased with some part of the proposed Dog Park Master Plan.

Advocates are concerned about the proposed pilot dog area in City Park that would allow dogs to run free in a designated area, without fences, at certain times of day, and the imposition of a annual fee to use Denver’s existing fenced off-leash dog parks. At other recent public meetings, both supporters and opponents have also mentioned these concerns.

Many of the dog park supporters said City Park is not a good fit for an unfenced off-leash dog area. Concerns include too many major streets nearby, the number of pedestrians and bicyclists using the park, damage to the turf, and usage of the same area by sports groups at other times of the day, and the possibility of residual dog waste.

Most attendees also said a fee to use off-leash parks would penalize the responsible dog owners who annually license their dogs. It has been reported that of Denver’s estimated 140,000 dogs, only ten percent are licensed. One person reasoned if more dogs were licensed, the revenue would exceed that of proposed dog park user fees.

Many of those at the meeting were unaware that a dog has to be licensed to use Denver’s current off-leash parks. Participants said most dog owners try to do the right thing, but don’t know how to register their dog, what the laws are and where they can go for more information.

The group proceeded to create a list of initiatives that the citizen partnership group would work on in the future. The list includes:
• Education
• Fundraising
• Communication
• Licensing
• Maintenance / Monitoring / Enforcement
• Ensuring Success and Great Parks
• Waste Clean-Up
• Website Development / Mission Statement of Organization

Meeting attendees also discussed Boulder’s special tag for “voice controlled” dogs. Possession of this tag allows dogs to be off-leash in certain areas. Participants expressed interest in defining “voice control” and a possible change to the existing leash laws to allow an exemption for dogs with this skill.

Several attendees expressed hope that the group can become its own 501(c)(3) nonprofit and function independently from Denver City staff. Doing that would enable the group to advocate for and create new legislation, harness the enthusiasm of dog owners to volunteer to help maintain existing off-leash dog parks, and advise Denver Parks and Recreation about future dog park plans.

David Marquardt conducted the meeting February 8, at the Webb Building. Marquardt is a Senior DPR Landscape Architect who leads the Dog Park Master Plan. Susan Fry also attended. Her responsibilities include supervision of park rangers who, as well as agents of Environmental Health-Animal control, write citations when dog owners are breaking existing leash laws.

Denver Parks and Recreation staff distributed a flyer with information about dog owner groups in other cities. The group decided to meet again on Monday, February 22 at 5:30 p.m. with the place of the meeting yet to be decided. Attendees were asked to visit the web sites of the other dog owner groups, consider a name and mission statement for Denver’s dog owner group and to begin prioritize the initiatives list.

Anyone interested in joining the group can e-mail either Louisa Coons at [email protected] or Julie Wheeless at [email protected].