Putting on the Dog: Position Papers and Presentations
A position paper serves a variety of purposes. It will help to synthesize your thoughts and prepare you for the public speaking circuit, and it will be the central part of your proposal (which should also include case studies and supporting affidavits). A shorter version can be used as a handy and ever-necessary “fact sheet” (important for policymakers with short attention spans), and as your press release (get to them before your opponents do). A volunteer with a nose for Internet research can really help out here. There is a lot of good source material available online to get you started. An excellent example has been produced by SFDOG, “Managing Off Leash Recreation in Urban Parks,” found on their web site. They analyze topics such as the benefits of dog ownership, the importance of socialization and exercise, the cycle of violation and enforcement, park guidelines, community organizing and outreach activities etc., with maps illustrating their findings. Another thorough analysis was prepared by students from the University of Southern California, “The Case for Space: An Analysis of Off-Leash Recreation Areas in Los Angeles,” written for Freeplay, the off-leash group in Venice, California.
One of the most remarkable finds on the web is a must-read report from Australia, “Public Open Space and Dogs: a Design and Management Guide for Open Space Professionals and Local Government.” Reading this might convince you to pack up your dogs and move down under, where there seems to be a very enlightened view of the place of dogs in society, including in parks—think “multi-use” and not separate little dog runs. As evidence of their forward thinking, this is what the report says about dogs as a threat to wildlife: “Another argument for restricting dogs’ access to public open space is that their presence (behavior and smell) frightens away native wildlife … the most direct failing is that the scientific evidence to support this view is far from sufficient to constitute the basis of a management prescription. The second failing relates to the fact that dogs are not the only agents that may frighten wildlife. Humans, especially children and teenagers, park maintenance staff and their machinery are likely to have as much impact as dogs.” Makes you want to burst out in a verse of Waltzing Matilda!
For some visual inspiration, there are two excellent videos, Your Dog Off Leash, prepared by Dog PAC, SB, and the Point Isabel Video Project. Both demonstrate the benefits of off-leash recreation and provide convincing proof of its efficacy—especially useful for people who have little first-hand familiarity with the joys of dog parks. They are invaluable resources.
Taking a clue from Seattle’s Jan Drago, focus on points that demonstrate that “this is not a dog issue, it is a people issue.” Even though we know we are doing this for our dogs, few policymakers care about them. Discuss the benefits of pet ownership in general, citing examples from both physical and mental health literature. New studies are cropping up every day. Your vet might be able to help with these citations. You can find many excellent reports of this kind from the Delta Society catalog. In our increasingly fragmented and isolated society, any positive opportunity to bring people together into a common space with a common interest is a rarity that should be rewarded and cherished.