Recognizing this community (“constituency”) is a concept most policymakers will appreciate. Your group’s willingness to become a dog park sponsoring group, or to take on stewardship responsibilities, such as self-policing, maintenance chores (ranging from poop clean-ups to wood chip disbursements), fundraising, assistance in shelter adoptions, increasing dog licensing compliance, etc., should not be lost on policymakers. Make sure to include such positive stakeholder assistance in your press release. There will never be enough officers to prevent people from walking leash-free dogs in parks, no matter what New York’s Mayor Giuliani feels—so better to make an alliance with dog people that can take on some of these responsibilities and help to educate others as well.
Discuss the importance for the elderly with dogs to be able to use parks for leashless recreation. Not only does it provide a social avenue, but for those with mobility problems it can be very difficult to walk, much less exercise, a dog on lead. Every local group probably has a dog park champion such as Ruth Wightman, of Alameda County, a “career-change” senior who went from retirement into the “field” of dog-park activism. She attends the bureaucrat’s meetings that other advocates can’t because their work schedules conflict with middle-of-the-day meeting schedules. She’s there keeping careful watch, and she’s having a blast with her new dog as well.
Dog owners are taxpayers, paying taxes into a system that provides parks to the public, yet most of us rarely use these greenspaces for anything but walking our dogs. If you can, get some budget numbers from your recreation department to show the public resources that are being spent on sports. Or make graphs or maps showing how much park area is devoted to a single-use activity, like baseball diamonds and tennis courts—contrast that with how much is set aside for your favorite recreational pursuit.
Public Health Benefits
There are great societal benefits, including enhancement of public safety, in allowing off-leash activity in parks. Dogs provide a safety component in the parks themselves; in fact, many marginal open spaces have been reclaimed for use as safe public space because dog people have “reclaimed and civilized” the space for the whole community. This happened in Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles, where an ad hoc dog park drove away the drug dealers and other less desirable users from a park that the rest of the community had abandoned. But, as is often the case, after the dog people transformed this park space, others, such as parents with small children, were once again attracted to the park and tried to dislodge the dog people. In many instances, the majority of dog park people are women, many of whom would not venture out to some areas of urban parks without a “guardian” dog.
We all know that the more a dog is socialized, the less likely it will be to develop aggressive behavioral patterns. Exercise not only tires a dog out, but “also generates ample supplies of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which has a mood-stabilizing and calming effect on personality,” as Dr. Nick Dodman describes in his book Dogs Behaving Badly. He also adds that you should exercise your dog “preferably first thing in the morning for an effect that lasts all day.” A more relaxed dog also leads to one less inclined to bark the day away, proclaiming her lonely state to the neighbors.
Finally, Jane Dirks, in a paper presented at the 1996 conference of the American Anthropological Association in San Francisco, had the following to say about the public benefits of dog parks: “For ultimately, the Dog People find in the Dog Park a sanctuary, a space for healing. Dog People exult in watching their animals run, feeling that an hour or two’s romp with their dogs is essential to health, theirs and their dogs’, and makes up for a week of sedentary working hours. Dog People roam the trails of lower Frick Park [in Pittsburgh], alone or in groups, peeling away the stress and cognitions of the human world, cleansing themselves in the world of nature through the heedless antics of a happy dog.” Now, isn’t that well worth fighting for?