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Dogs Off Leash in our Parks

Original post made by Carol, Palo Verde, on Nov 13, 2006

As I like to walk around the neighborhood, I have seen many responsible dog owners take their dogs off-leash in our parks at such times that there is no one else around to be bothered. The dogs are playing with balls, obedient, cleaned up after, and generally happy, healthy and well cared for due to this exercise. I have also seen irresponsible dog owners do the same, let their dogs pee in the play area, bother other park users, etc. etc. and seen the poop around as a result.

Isn't it time to help our responsible dog owners take their dogs out for exercise and teach the others how to do the same. I recently visited my sister in Ireland and she has a very lively, happy dog. She lives near a park which continues onto the beach. The law there states that dogs can be taken onto the beach and into the parks only before 10.00 a.m. and one hour before sunset, regardless whether they are on leash or not provided no organised sports are taking place. This seems to make a lot of sense to me. On her morning daily walk she meets up with other dog owners and together they can exercise their dogs at times when the parks or beaches are not used by other people. Families rarely use the parks before 10.00 or at dusk, and any times the park is being used for sport that early or late in the day, the dogs are able to go elsewhere.

This seems to be a very sensible idea and works well. The responsible dog owners are teaching the others how to look after their dogs by example and anecdotally. The parks are kept as clean as required and the dogs themselves are much healthier as a result of the kind of exercise that they get by being allowed to run at their own pace, rather than walked at the pace of their owners.

I am not a dog owner, but have lived with dogs and do occasionally look after dogs for others. It seems to me that a lot of the problems we have around here with dogs could be solved by similar rules, so I put the idea out to see what others think.

Comments (22)

Posted by Leslie
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 13, 2006 at 8:53 pm

I walk for exercise in the mornings around Greer park, Seal park and Don Ramos Park and have had many encounters with dogs off leashes. I have pretty much been run out of these parks by dog owners who refuse to keep their animals on leashes. I have been rushed by dogs usually followed by owners who assure me that their dogs are harmless. For those of us who are timid around strange dogs, any dog off a leash is potential threat. I walk at sunrise or a bit earlier so, no before 10 would not work for me. We have leash laws so that all of us can live here together. I do not choose to live with your dogs, keep them on a leash, in your yard or in a dog run.

It sounds like the folks in Ireland have been better socialized when it comes to living with dogs in urban enviorments. I do not see the same behavior here.

I live here and pay taxes yet cannot enjoy the use of these parks. Yes, I have talked to these people. Yes, I have called the police. We have dog runs in many parks in PA, are they not good enough? One man in Seal park actually laughed at me. Like I said above, I have basically stopped using the parks, perhaps I should deduct that from my recent tax bill?

Posted by Withheld
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2006 at 6:32 am

Yeah nice try Carol. Personally I think your idea has some merit -- I only see two problems with it ever becoming reality:

1.) ALL dog owners think they are responsible. Remember the SF woman who left her son home alone with the vicious family pit bull while she attended her daughter's school event? She thought it was responsible to lock the boy in a room to keep the pit bull from killing him. The pit bull killed him anyway.

2.) There is always going to be somebody like Leslie who is timid around dogs and will insist her tax bill be deducted if she has to run screaming from the park for no real reason. It would be nice if she got some dog education and experience that might help her change that mindset. I'm not saying she has to like dogs but some education and experience could help her live near them and overcome her fear.

As far as dog runs -- I only know of one in Palo Alto, at Miller Park. A nice decent sized one. It can get crowded for a dog like mine. She only wants to play ball and doesn't want to socialize with other dogs. She's an eight-year-old golden retriever --- a very sweet, older dog. Five minutes of throwing in the ball in a wide open space is enough to tucker her out.

Are there other dog runs in town? This can present another challenge --dog runs are not very numerous and they're often tucked out of the way, meaning many dog owners cannot walk to them with their animals. Instead they must get in the car and drive to the dog parks. This is not a good thing environmentally. In some cases, the location is also questionable. Mountain View installed a dog park next to Shoreline Park. The area adjacent to it is a bird sanctuary. The birds were flying over the dog park and pooping in the dogs' drinking water which made many canine visitors sick.

Yes, I'm afraid you've touched on a hot button issue here Carol. The dog owners and non-dog owners have been at each other's throats for some time. Usually the non-dog owners win -- louder whining decipibles that only politicians and city leaders can hear so you have situations like Leslie describes -- dogs being walked in parks off leash all over the place because there are so few places where they can legally take them off leash.

Posted by Craig
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 14, 2006 at 6:07 pm

I am really not sure what type of argument dog-owners can make that can excuse their behavior. If your dog is off the leash, you're breaking the law...period. You can justify your refusal to follow the law any way you like (lack of leashes, friendly dog, etc..), but it's no different than any other person justifying running a stop sign, not paying taxes, or stealing cable. There are leash laws that have been agreed to by our community, and some people have decided that they are above laws. If you don't like a law, the only ethical thing to do (with very few exceptions) is to work to get the law changed.

Duveneck is practically unusable for small, timid, children on weekends and evenings because of the off-leash dogs. Why the police choose to completely ignore this, I really don't know.

Posted by Carol
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 14, 2006 at 7:16 pm

I would like to clarify my original post in case it has been misunderstood.

Our parks are getting used much too frequently by dogs off leash, because the few dog runs we have are not much good. They are too small, too few in number, not very accessible unless you drive to get there (defeating the object of giving yourself and your pet exercise) no grass which means mud in wet weather and dust in dry weather which means that dogs get filthy dirty. For this reason, who can blame dog owners for not wanting to use them.

My suggestion was to give access to our parks for a couple of hours in the early morning and the hour before sunset and provided the dogs were being taken care of by responsible owners, the dogs would be getting the much needed exercise they need in a desirable setting for their owners. If dogs are well exercised, it helps a great deal in their overall behaviour. We would have far fewer incidents of dogs being left at home in need of exercise and barking at the slightest thing because they would be worn out from their exercise and spend a lot more time at home asleep, or at least content.

Because we were opening up the parks for dogs at certain times of the day, we could then not allow dogs in the parks at all other times. From my observations, dogs even leashed can be a nuisance, particularly on these really long leashes that get tied up around people's legs, park benches, strollers, tricycles, etc. etc.

This would mean that those who were nervous around dogs, whether leashed or unleashed, would be able to use the parks for the majority of the time without fear of encountering dogs at all.

This would be sharing our park facilities for all our residents. The parks are for us all to enjoy and whether we want the parks for sports, picnics, parties, exercise, playgrounds, dog walking or anything else, we should be able to amicably discuss reasonable suggestions without nimbyism or other negative comments.

I am not a dog owner myself, although I have lived with dogs. I do understand that one of the biggest problems with dogs as pets is being able to give them adequate exercise. Taking a dog for walks at the owners' pace instead of the dog's full run on hard footpaths or messy dog runs is not good for the overall health and well being of a medium to large sized dog. A dog needs to be able to run at full speed, smell and urinate, be taught obedience and manners, and this cannot be done without access to space. Most of the homes in this area do not have adequate sized yards to give even the more modest sized dogs the exercise they deserve. As a result we have many unhappy dogs, badly behaved, noisy, and disruptive, with owners who find it hard to know what to do for the best. As a result they let their dogs off leash in the parks which does annoy people. If everyone knew when dogs could safely be in the parks off lease and those that wanted to avoid them, could, it would be a solution that could benefit us all.

Posted by Anna
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 14, 2006 at 11:18 pm

License dog owners! Make a course in animal behavior and training MANDATORY as part of the licensing procedure. Owning a pet is a PRIVILEGE. Not understanding how to control an animal in an urban environment does an injustice to the animal, and humans that encounter the animal.

Also, STIFF fines fro off-leash dogs. $100 for the first offense. $500 for the second offense. $1000 for the third offense. A fourth offense causes loss of ownership privileges, unless the owner undergoes a one week animal training session, and performs public service for two weeks by accompanying animal control on its rounds.

btw, I'm a dog lover.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 15, 2006 at 9:16 am

Great idea - and a great way to fill the city coffers for city improvements!!!

Posted by No Dogs
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 15, 2006 at 3:19 pm

Not all people are comfortable with dogs.


Posted by Carol
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 15, 2006 at 4:47 pm


What I was saying is that if we could give the dog owners some time to take the dogs off leash in the parks WE COULD BAN THEM THE REST OF THE TIME.

This would mean that for the majority of the day there would be no dogs at all, leashed or unleashed to upset people who do not like dogs.

This idea was to share the parks, I thought we might have a few constructive ideas without upsetting anyone. Please read the posts carefully and see what I mean.

Posted by NAC
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 15, 2006 at 10:22 pm

We own two small dogs. They are always kept on leash when outside the back yard. There's nothing more scary than a really big "friendly" dog off-leash running at you, especially a dark coloured dog at night (which has happened a couple of times).

I've also seen off leash "friendly" dogs trot their way over to small children, who are terribly frightened.

The law is straightforward, keep dogs on leash. I've seen plenty of happy Labs, Great Danes and other large/energetic dogs that are happy, healthy and on leash at all time.

I own dogs, I love dogs, but honestly ---- I don't think there's such a thing as a responsible dog owner with a dog off leash. It's a bit contradictory.

Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 16, 2006 at 10:14 am

I am on the Palo Alto City Parks and Recreation Commission, so this string is interesting to me.

I also own a beagle, who is a frequent leashed visitor to Eleanor Pardee Park, and an occassional user of the dog runs at Seale and Mitchell. He also has "run free" at Addison School on certain Sunday mornings and on summertime evenings, as do many other dogs that reside nearby (owners in attendance.)

We do have very clear laws on the books in Palo Alto around keeping dogs leashed, and the police from time to time have been sent out to enforce the existing ordinances, especially if things have gotten out of hand either with dog poop or a difficult animal has created problems with people at a park or other facility, especially the schools.

One could advocate that the penalties could be more severe and be escalated as a person violating gets multiple infractions. One also could advocate for more active enforcement by police, education of dog owners, and other things. So here are my questions:

How can those of us on the Commission work with the community to get people to take personal greater responsibility for their dogs? Further, how can we who are responsible members of the dog owning community be effective in getting people whose dogs are not behaving appropriately to get their dogs under control?

I go to a summer camp every year with my family, and we are one of about 100 families at the camp during the week. At the opening night meeting, the Camp Director always says "All parents at camp should treat all the children at the camp as if they are their own children. If an adult sees any child doing something unsafe or naughty, that parent is expected to deal with the child so that the situation is fixed, and the behavior is fixed."

This summer camp model empowers people who are in the middle of a situation to get a matter under control. It also puts the parents of a child who may be subject to some discipline on notice that others are going to take appropriate steps with such a child, if the child is compromising him/her self or others at the camp. It works pretty well, from what I have observed and experienced.

Getting the police involved and exacting fines and other penalties may be appropriate if a matter escalates, but as a practical matter, it should not can not be the first line of defense in this or any other community. These situations happen so quickly that if they are not addressed immediately by the people on the scene, it is difficult and time consuming to deal with them ex post facto, if they get resolved at all.

I am not sure that we can ever realistically expect this problem to entirely go away. By the same token, I do think we as members of the community should feel empowered to deal with this matter ourselves in an appropriate way, and also put those errant dog owners on notice that if their dog does something unsafe, they will be confronted and asked/told to get the dog under control.

I will be interested in what others have to say about this, and if some of you wish to speak to the Parks and Recreation Commission about your concerns, I encourage you to do so.

Paul Losch, Member
Parks and Recreation Commission
City of Palo Alto

Posted by Withheld
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2006 at 10:19 am

Carol, Carol, Carol -- I told you this was a hot button issue. I love your idea and think it provides a very happy medium for all parties. However, those who don't wish to share space --- outer space, park space, whatever --- are a populous and loud whiny lot and as they say, the squeeky wheel gets the oil and the park ALL OF THE TIME! It's a bummer. I know my golden retriever loves off leash time to fetch the ball, an activity that can't be carried out if the dog is on a leash. Imagine a big dog choked by an ultra extended leash while trying to retrieve the dog and me with my shoulder thrown out and arm pulled out its socket while trying to control the momentum of 75 pounds of enthusiasm going full force for that ball.

If I had my way, your idea would be the way to good but, until other dog owners get loud it will never happen. All of you non-dog folks pose your arguements about being tax payers who contribute to the parks -- well dog owners fall into that category too! I also pay the state to maintain a dog license. So, why can't we have a say in park usage as well? No one is proposing that packs of dogs be allowed to roam the playgrounds and carry off your kids like dingos. We just wanted some designated time to throw the ball in an open space. THAT'S IT!!! I doubt you'll even know there were dogs ever there --- many of the dog owners I've been around are great about policing each other on poop pick-up. There could even be a number of parks that are strictly no dogs ever to keep those early morning exercisers who don't care for canines free of them. I'm just saying there are ways to balance about the situation better than it is now. And to those like NAC who make the arguement, there's a leash law blah, blah, blah... just because something is on the law books doesn't mean it has to stay there!! Come on people, think outside the dog run here -- this is the Silicon Valley, a place of genius and creativity, I know we have it in us to be more creative than this!

Posted by Leslie
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 16, 2006 at 11:22 am

Thank you for your thoughtful post. Actually, I am a dog owner as well as being nervous around dogs that I do not know and are not on a leash. As I stated above, I have been charged and my husband nipped. I consider this serious enough that I have called the police. Although I have given up on that, it does not do anything. I would expect that we will have a biting incident at some point and then something will happen.

Clearly there are not enough dog runs. I would be in favor of adding more. Greer park is clearly big enough for one. I am not sure what else to do. I do think that people have priority over dogs and many dog owners just dont 'get' that I do not want their dog sniffing me or anywhere near me.

Seal Park is very sad for me because it has such a nice track, but I find I can no longer use it due to the gentleman with two dogs at dawn. I cannot be certain that he is there every am, but he is there most morning that I have tried. That track is tucked away and I guess the off-the leash crowd find its protection on three sides attractive as well.

As far as confronting the people in question, I do. However, if I know that confrontation is what I have to look forward to each day it does reduce the quality of my experience. Most of these folks do not take it well. Occasionally, I will get an "Oh, I'm sorry" but usually its rolled eyes, or ignored until I am nearly yelling and flipping out. Not the way I want to exercise and I'll bet not what they want either.

So I come back to this...Its against the law. I am not breaking the law, they are. Why should I have to explain and make accomodations? Its the law that the people of Palo Alto approved. Its your law people, if you did not want it then change it. Until you do, obey it.

Posted by Carol
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 16, 2006 at 12:04 pm


FYI There is a dog run in Greer Park. It is hidden away and I have never seen anyone use it. It is behind one of the soccer goal posts, backing up onto an office park with frontage on Bayshore. It is quite close to the parking lot. It is very well hidden, long and skinny right up beside the hedge and you could walk right past without noticing it. So, Paul, a map or sign in the parking lot or at the entrance to the Park might be a good idea.

Posted by Marie
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 16, 2006 at 9:38 pm

Very interesting thread! We own 2 very active dogs and we tend to take them to designated off-leash areas only. Our dogs are taken to dog training classes regularly and we frequently receive compliments about the behaviors of our dogs. While it would be wonderful to be able to share all PA parks, I understand and respect people's discomfort with off-leash dogs. My husband and I believe that we are very conscientious dog owners - we read extensively on managing canine behavior, are quick to clean up after our dogs, and we regularly check-in with others if we sense that others are not comfortable with our dogs.

I wish I could say the same about more dog owners. Frequently, off-leash dogs may come charging at us with our leashed dogs, which tends to promote leash aggression in any dog easily. That being said, my husband and I will shout and hard stare any offending dog to get it to move away from us and our leashed dogs. We've also seen dog owners who dismiss the concerns of non-dog owners as well as dog owners who don't clean up after their dogs. We don't frequent regular PA parks for these reasons - We don't want our dogs to be traumatized or to learn any bad habits.

Perhaps non-dog owners may be more tolerant of us dog-owners wishes to share park time when all of us become more respectful towards each individual's preference and comfort level around our dogs.

Posted by No Dogs
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 17, 2006 at 5:37 am

AREN'T YOU GLAD that people who dislike dogs are allowing you to keep DOGS in the neighborhood. They tolerate your dog pee and poo all the time.
PLEASE HEAVEN SAKE DO NOT ASK FOR MORE. You have been allowed to privilege to keep dogs within human civilization.

Posted by Dave
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 17, 2006 at 7:52 am

There's also a Palo Alto law/ordinance that prohibits the use of gas powered leafblowers, yet it seems like very few if any home owners have ordered their gardeners to stop using those awful mchines. People seem to ignore laws they dislike but demand others to obey laws they agree with. Residents who own active dogs needing off-leash time just don't have access to nearly enough dog runs in palo Alto. I encounter on a daily basis residents who get very upset, and often call the police, when they see an off-leash dog running in a city park during off hours when there's nobody else around, yet the same complainers get very angry when asked why they allow their gardeners to violate the city law that prohibits the use of gasoline leafblowers. Maybe we need some consistency in people's attitude:either all laws are obeyed or none at all.

Posted by No Dogs
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 17, 2006 at 8:56 am

When you see a violation please call the authorities. If you see a gas powered leaf-blower or you see a dog off leash.

Posted by sarlat
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 17, 2006 at 9:18 am

Right on Dave. So often I'll hear residents complain about seeing a dog off leash in a city park, while I know very well that the the very same complainer/s is an impatient and dangerous driver who often runs red lights, drives at twice the legal speed on residential streets and schools zones and allowed the gardeners he employs to use gas leaf-blowers. And to 'No Dogs':home owners who allow their gardeners to break the law are immune from any penalty, while dog owners are subjects to fines and even to the confiscation of their dogs-big difference.

Posted by Lisa
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 28, 2006 at 1:19 pm

The City has been through this issue many times in its history. In the early 90s there was a push to allow dogs off leaches; community meetings were scheduled to discuss the issue, when some really long time resident reminded the City that a leach law was passed by the voters sometime in the 1950s or 1960s. If you want to change the leach law you can collect the required number of signatures and get it back on the ballot.

Posted by Withheld
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 11, 2006 at 3:34 pm

Why not make this a money making thing? Those who want thier dogs off leash so badly would have the meet requirements to get the privilege --- the owner would pay an "off leash fee," and the dog would have to go through a certain amount of obedience training and be signed off by a license dog trainer with a certificate then the owner would bring that to city hall or animal control and receive a license to walk their dog or have the dog off leash. Anyone not able to furnish a license when asked by a police officer or park official would be fined. Charge those applying for off leash licenses $25 a year to have them and those who are fined for an unlicensed off leash pooch $200. Dog owners have the option they want and Palo Alto has a new revenue stream.

Posted by Rover
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 15, 2006 at 3:40 pm

WOOF, WOOF, WOOF, BOW WOW, BOW WOW, WOOF WOOF, Humans stink, BOW WOW, Humans Whine, WOOF, WOOF, BOW WOW, Humans think everything is just for them... whimper, whimper, WOOF!

Posted by Fido
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 15, 2006 at 3:41 pm

I think its time to put the humans on leashes and see how they like it.

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