Letting the dogs out | June 21, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto Weekly

News - June 21, 2013

Letting the dogs out

Palo Alto dog owners form group to lobby for greater share of public space

by Sue Dremann

A group of Palo Alto dog owners want the city to create an open area in a park for frolicking, off-leash dogs.

Their model is Menlo Park's Nealon Park, where off-leash dogs can roam in a fenced area on weekday mornings. Up to 100 dog owners and their pets turn out every day.

At the Palo Alto Dog Owners' inaugural meeting last week, its members also discussed lobbying for a small part of a Palo Alto open-space preserve where dogs could run free.

Leaders said they hope the organization will give them more clout.

Daria Walsh, a dog owner and former Palo Alto Parks and Recreation commissioner, said securing more public space has been an uphill battle. She said she worked to get additional dog areas for six years, "but every time it was shot down."

Part of the problem was that dog owners have not shown their numbers at meetings, she said.

"When you can say you have 1,000 people who want something, it carries some weight," group founder Howard Hoffman said.

Hoffman's two labradoodles, Merlin and Franny, lounged at his feet during the meeting. Hoffman said the city's three small dog runs — at Greer, Hoover and Mitchell parks — aren't sufficient. The three total 0.75 acres.

The dog runs are often crowded and inadequate, especially for large dogs, he said. Franny, the larger of Hoffman's dogs, can jump the low fence at Hoover's dog run whenever she chooses. He takes the dogs to Menlo Park or to Pulgas Ridge Open Space Preserve in Redwood City a couple of times each week so they can work off their energy.

Palo Alto's limited spaces have led to tensions between more dominant animals and anxiety among more skittish pets and owners. Some dogs become anxious when on-leash.

Owners have taken to illegally letting their dogs run off leash at parks and schools, group members said. But other park and field users aren't happy with that. Some dogs are aggressive; others are friendly but exuberant and frighten people, group members said.

"The status quo is not a good situation," Hoffman said.

Hoffman is a former soccer coach whose children played in Palo Alto parks. He has witnessed the problem from both sides since 1988, he said. The group wants a collaborative rather than adversarial approach to the problem, he added.

"It's not just about 'my dogs' or 'our dogs' but the whole community. We have to have more off-leash options that comply with the law. I don't expect it will eliminate all of the violations, but it will greatly reduce them," he said.

At Nealon, a fenced baseball field is accessible for off-leash dogs Mondays through Fridays from 8 to 10 a.m. The off-leash gatherings have become one of Menlo Park's strongest community activities, according to The Dog Owners Group of Menlo Park (DOGMA) website. Each weekday, dog owners congregate to share stories and neighborhood news and to meet others.

But even a larger park won't stop problems if an owner isn't responsible, though. A woman who was maimed by a German shepherd filed a lawsuit Dec. 4 against the dog's owner, who allegedly dropped off and left her dog unattended while she talked on her cell phone outside the fence. The victim said she was bitten after she tried to separate her dog from the shepherd, which had grabbed her smaller dog around the throat, according to the Weekly's sister paper, The Almanac.

Palo Alto Dog Owners members said everyone must act responsibly, and rules should be in place to ensure a safe and enjoyable space for everyone. And that includes picking up after one's pet.

Users at Nealon organize a "clean" sweep of the field after each session, searching the park sector by sector to remove any animal waste, according to DOGMA.

Les Ezrati of the Palo Alto group suggested following the Nealon Park example.

Randy Hoffman recommended that when people register for a dog license, they could make a volunteer contribution to pay for a professional field-cleaning service.

She also said using a park early in the day would not conflict with other users' needs.

"If the dog park is open between 7 and 9 a.m., it wouldn't interfere with soccer, baseball or camps," she said.

Palo Alto advocates have sought a dog park in the northern part of the city, which has none. A designated area in El Camino Park was under consideration, but that plan is in jeopardy. The city's Planning and Transportation Commission in April recommended against the dog run due to lack of space.

The dog owners are also eying the city's upcoming "Parks, Trails, Open Space and Recreation Master Plan," which is expected to be ready for public study by December 2014, according to Greg Betts, director of community services. The plan will identify gaps in programming and city facilities.

Betts said dog areas exemplify the need for a master plan. Currently, the city might try to shoehorn a dog area into a park where it doesn't serve anyone well.

"It's so small that it's more of a dog closet than a dog park," he said.

Currently, there are 5,600 licensed dogs registered with Palo Alto Animal Services, according to Connie Urbanski, the interim superintendent. That figure might represent about 25 percent of the city's dog population, she added.

So far, about 80 people have signed up on the new group's website, www.PaloAltoDogs.org, according to Hoffman.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at sdremann@paweekly.com.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 21, 2013 at 8:37 am

I am not a dog owner at present, but have lived with dogs much of my life.

I think it is about time dog owners were given better facilities to allow their dogs to run offleash. A well exercised dog is much better behaved than a dog who only gets exercise on leash or on hard surfaces. Every dog should have the opportunity to catch a stick on grass - not dirt.

I wish the best to this dog owner group and hope to see some better use made of our parks for dogs.

Like this comment
Posted by South PA resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 21, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Greer Park has a pathetically tiny dog run, it's so small a large dog can hardly turn around in it!!!

I always thought it was an opportunity for dog owners to have asked for the newly landscaped area of Greer Park adjacent to the frontage road to H.101. Unfortunately, not nearly enough dog owners stepped forward to lobby for it, so that was a big opportunity missed.

Perhaps that section of Greer Park could be opened up to dog owners from 8:00 am - 10:00 am, I never see anyone walking or using that newly landscaped area of Greer Park, which I walk by regularly.

Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 21, 2013 at 5:06 pm

When the local dog owners quit leaving their dog's crap on my yard and sidewalk, I'll be more inclined toward a proposal like this.

Like this comment
Posted by No dog park
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jun 21, 2013 at 11:51 pm

According to my vet, dog parks expose dogs unnecessarily to parasites. They also endanger unaggressive dogs by allowing socialization with bigger, stronger, more aggressive dogs whose owners are not in good control of them. Many small or shy dogs have been injured or killed by large aggressive dogs who mauled them in a dog park, while the owners stood by helplessly.

If your dog needs exercise, walk or run them on leash, throw the ball for them in your back yard, but do not take them to a dog park!

Like this comment
Posted by David
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 22, 2013 at 12:25 pm

An off leash dog area in Open Space is a bad idea. Arastradero Preserve has a history of coyote vs domestic k9s for several years now. There are other hazards such as rattlesnakes, grey foxes, skunks and there is the ticks. The baylands would be even worse with federal protection of nesting birds for most of the year. Bad idea.

Like this comment
Posted by The bad owners outweigh the good
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jun 23, 2013 at 1:30 pm

Why should we spend our money on dog owners? So many of them completely disrespect our property, trespassing onto our private property to leave dog feces and urine stains, filling our PAUSD playgrounds with dog feces. Feces is not safe for humans. If it were so safe, why don't dog owners pick up the feces with their bare hands? Our children step in the feces and fall on the feces but these dog owners think it's okay? Many dog owners are so lazy that they will not use dog parks anyway because the nearest PAUSD site is closer to their home.

Why was there an ordinance enacted about owners picking up their dog's feces? Because so many weren't doing it otherwise.

And many owners blatantly allow their dogs to run off leash in our parks and school grounds, which is against ordinance also.