But in the ’90s we are going through one of those horrid “paradigm shifts,” with a number of factors affecting how far the shift will go. There is increased competition for scarce green space from a number of other public park users—inline skaters, picnickers and exercise-driven adults wanting to play “ball” sports. There are more people living in “planned” developments (many in the Sun Belt states or in exurbs) that didn’t put dog parks into their master plans. And, as Battiata suggests, urban areas’ “in-fill development” is taking away green space, and “the ‘echo’ baby boomers are filling parks with strollers and toddlers once again,” setting up the overplayed “children vs. dog” conflict. There is criticism leveled in NYC that people are favoring bigger dogs (Labs are the most popular dog today, while in the ’50s, it was the Cocker Spaniel). Add to all this a society that is becoming increasingly less tolerant in general, with road rage spilling over into dogs-in-park rage, and your de facto dog park can vanish in the wink of an eye.
There is truth in the adage “don’t fix what ain’t broke.” Perhaps this isn’t the time for you to venture into the dog park minefield—you might want to hang back to see what happens. But leash law enforcement is usually complaint-driven, so it only takes one irate citizen’s angry complaining and that schoolyard-doubling-as-dog-park can come to a screeching halt—as dog lovers in Sacramento recently found out. In Berkeley a scat-obsessed citizen with a penchant for high drama dials 911 to report dogs in “his” public park, pooping on “his” grass. This staunch dog-hater gave a slide presentation at a Task Force meeting showing offending poop piles with little white flags he’d stuck in them, neatly dated, to demonstrate how uncivil dog people can be … umph. But as unreasonable as a 911 call for dogs pooping may be, this man’s complaints were answered by swift police action and he managed to make life miserable for that park’s dog people.
And the Wheel Keeps Turning, Turning, Turning …
Changing public policy and amending laws isn’t all that easy. It can take an enormous amount of grassroots effort, aided by familiarity with governmental procedures and the tenacity of 10,000 Terriers (definitely the most important factor of all). Leaders in the movement have a lot in common with dogs: their staying power, ability to focus and determination would make any Border Collie proud. Attendance at dull and often frustrating committee meetings and public hearings, letter writing, petitioning, and buoying up flagging volunteers might consume years of your time, with an attendant loss of sanity. But if you think you are ready for the challenge, and promise to keep your good sense of humor, here is some information that might help you along.
A Doggedly Determined Political Action Plan
Knowing the political process, how it’s played and who the players are is half the battle. Do the very necessary and Kafkaesque task of learning how your local government operates. Most dog park issues involve municipal or county governments, requiring modifications in ordinances. Chart your way around city hall. City (county) clerk offices or their online equivalent are good places to start. They’ll provide lists of legislators. Set up meetings with your legislators to scope out their feelings.
Identify the procedures needed to get your proposal heard by the legislative body. Battiata describes the scene well: “Finally, late into the evening, only one item remained on the docket. And in the well-established tradition of local government, it was the really controversial one.” That final one will undoubtedly be yours, so rest assured, you will learn more than you ever wanted to know about legislative procedures.
If policy advisory commissions are involved, find out which ones recommend policy regarding parks, when they meet and, most importantly, how to get your item on an agenda. Policy can be shaped by a chairperson controlling agendas, so this might be more difficult than you think.