There's an interesting post on AAIO on the dog park for Ann Arbor debate. With one cranky exception, even the people who don't particularly like dogs see the importance of having such a park. I don't think I've ever seen such agreement amongst the commentators there - on a positive issue, anyway, there have been plenty of snarky posts where everyone is happy to join in abuse. As far as I can tell from reading a recent newspaper article and the posts at ArborDog, the reasons that there aren't a public dog park in Ann Arbor already are:
- NIMBY issues (dog parks are ugly and/or dirty, increase traffic, people are just going to let their dogs run off-leash in parks anyway so why bother, and dog parks are dangerous, and won't someone think of the children?)
- painfully slow city bureaucracy - with funds available for fences at some parks but not others
The increased traffic and parking might be an issue if people actually do travel to use the dog park (negating the next objection). I don't really think that people who come to use a dog park are going to let their dogs run off-leash outside the park - they're already traveling a bit just to use an area where their dogs can be off-leash safely, so what's the point of letting them loose just outside the dog park? From what I've seen at other dog parks, the dog owners that use dog parks are generally more responsible than your average dog owner. They understand that dogs need exercise and socialization, and they often have taken their dogs to obedience classes. Bad dog owners can't let their dogs off the leash even in a dog park, because the dog doesn't understand "come", and their dogs won't drop the ball when they retrieve so why bother to throw anything, and they just don't have time to do more than let the dog out in the backyard a couple of times a day anyway.
I don't think that dog parks are any more unsightly than baseball fields, soccer fields, or playgrounds, and we certainly have plenty of those around. They need a lot less maintenance than any of those park facilities, too. Basically, all a dog park needs is fencing (and not really expensive fencing, either), parking (already available at many of the parks), and a garbage can. Shade is nice, but not necessary.
And I don't think dog parks are dangerous, either. You could certainly argue that happy, exhausted, and well-socialized dogs are safer to be around that neurotic, hyperactive dogs, and that dog owners are less likely to let their dogs off-leash in other parks if they have somewhere that they can do it legally. The dog park in Saline (see below) co-exists with both a children's playground and some natural areas, and during many hours spent with my kids on the playground, we've never had any problems with dogs. And the few times that I've been in the dog park, we didn't have any problems with children.
I don't understand the difficulty in putting a fence up at an existing park. The City of Ann Arbor Parks & Recreation department owns 147 parks, and they can't find one area with an acre to spare? I'm still mad at them for taking down a perfectly good chain-link fence at Scheffler Park, and replacing it with a rustic split-rail wooden fence. The chain-link fence made the park playground safe for little kids, which I assume is part of the point of having a playground. It must have cost a bit to pull out that fence and replace it with the new fence - which had the great advantage of being easy to mow under, even if it didn't keep toddlers from ducking under the rails and out onto Platt. I know that quite a few letters and e-mails to the Parks department were shrugged off, so maybe it shouldn't surprise me that dog owners are getting the shaft now.
Anyway, we're lucky to live near two dog parks now - one run by the city of Saline Parks & Recreation department, in Mill Pond park (in the back of the park, on the Saline river), and one at the corner of Textile and Pleasant Lake Rd. (kitty corner from the Washtenaw Farm Council grounds), part of the Copper Leaf Crossing vet's office/pet supply store.
Sadly, my dog is now too old to benefit from a dog park - at well over 14, she doesn't want to wrestle or chase rambunctious younger dogs any more, and she just doesn't need so much exercise. I remember spending hours throwing a tennis ball or a frisbee in Leslie Park when she was young, calling her quickly and putting the leash on her anytime a car entered the park or when a kid came wandering over from Arrowwood. We not only picked up our dog's poop, but offered bags to other dog owners who seemed like they were going to ignore their dog's waste, and often picked up other's people's dog poop and the occasional diaper thrown into the parking lot. My retriever mix also excelled in collecting plastic bottles, which we turned in for the deposit or recycled. We were responsible scofflaws who didn't hurt anyone.
Zoe still acts like a puppy when we put the sprinkler out, though, even in her old age. Here she is last Sunday, the hottest day of the year, when she was running through the water with my kids.