Dr. Lynette Hart, director of UC Davis’ Center for Animals in Society, addressed many key points in a letter of support for a Sacramento dog park initiative: “Dogs especially facilitate friendly interactions among people, as they so actively solicit play and offer greetings … establishing a dog park creates a community center of activity where friends and neighbors gather to relax … users of dog parks are self-policing so as to maintain the appealing environment .… Creating dog parks is a method for more efficiently educating dog owners and facilitating them in assuring excellent behavior with their dogs.”
Dr. Nicholas Dodman, Tufts University veterinarian and behaviorist, answering a question about a dog’s need for aerobic exercise, stated,“Walking them on a leash is not sufficient exercise. It is not that they die if they walk on a leash, and it’s not that a human being dies in solitary confinement either. It is just that it is not optimal for their physiological and psychological well-being.” He adds, “It is important for a dog to be provided with natural outlets—to be able to run and exercise and chase things and do as a dog was bred to do.” There is plenty of expert testimony—we hope you will be able to get the vets in your community to write letters as well.
Humane organizations and animal shelters should be willing to endorse your efforts as well. As a nationally respected leader on all issues relating to companion animals, San Francisco’s SPCA has been a staunch proponent of off-leash recreation. This is evidenced by an excerpt from their statement to the Advisory Dogs Off-Leash Task Force: “We feel that because of the growth of our City’s population, in human and canine terms, now is the time to accommodate for the future of our dog-friendly parks … Off-leash recreation is not only an essential part of how many people care for their pets—it is a way to give a little something back to the animals who give us all so much.” The SF/SPCA cares so much about this issue that they have even offered to contribute financially to the development of a state-of-the-art dog park in San Francisco.
Running with a Pack
Again, stressing the power in numbers, you might want to consider the formation of an umbrella group composed of groups with a common vision. Seattle’s COLA has led the way in this manner, and has been recognized as the official sponsoring group, entering into a formal agreement with the city to perform various stewardship functions in their off-leash areas. New York City’s dog people have recently banded together to form NYCDOG (“nice dog”) in response to that city’s recent draconian crackdown against off-leash recreation. According to Dr. Terry Fonville, “it is hoped that this will give us strength and unified voice … as well as helping all the diverse users of the City’s parks find common ground … our outreach abilities will be employed to better educate dog owners regarding responsible use of the parks.” We certainly wish our doggie friends in the Big Apple a lot of luck. There are many similar umbrella groups across the country, such as Judy Green’s ArlingtonDogs in Virginia, SFDOG and DogPAC, SB, all of which understand the importance of unity.