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Planning for Dogs: Exercise vs. Restraint

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It’s happening in communities across the nation. From Anchorage, Alaska, to Sarasota, Florida. On the coasts of Maine, Virginia, California. Even on the Hawaiian islands. Call it the dog park revolution. In cities big and small, dog owners are banding together to demand their fair share of public parks — places where Fido can run unhindered by a six-foot leash. Where Harry can sniff Sally. Where dogs can chase tennis balls, Frisbee discs, or each other.

Dogs and humans have an extensive history. Most scientists agree we began living together about 12,000 years ago. Some experts claim that our species evolved together, tying our destinies to each other for the long haul. In 2001, the American Veterinary Medical Association estimated that over 60 million dogs lived in 38 million households nationwide — in other words, nearly four out of every ten U.S. households owns at least one dog.

More and more people also see their canine companions as part of the family. Bookstores stock numerous guides on where to travel or play with dogs. And according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, pet owners will spend an estimated $31 billion on their pets this year. (That number includes all pets, not just dogs.)

“Times are changing from where dogs are in the backyard to now, where they’re true companion animals,” says Laurie Kennedy, volunteer coordinator at the San Francisco SPCA and a member of San Francisco’s Dog Advisory Committee.

Most cities and towns have de facto dog areas — parks, ball fields, or even schoolyards where dog owners let their pets run free during off hours, even though they technically may be breaking city leash laws. With dwindling open space — and more people fighting to use it — conflicts over dog exercise areas grow.

But Rex needs a place to run. According to the San Francisco SPCA, for dogs “exercise means exertion. It means running off-leash and playing with other dogs.” Ironically, a City of Boston web page lists that city’s leash laws under a heading titled, “Exercise restraint … leash your dog!” Dog owners would argue just that: leashes restrain dogs and thus hinder exercise. Leashed dogs just don’t burn off enough energy, even if walked for miles.

Like humans, canines are better behaved and more relaxed when well-exercised. Dogs also become better socialized when able to play with each other off leash. (Leashes may make a pooch feel constrained and confined, and thus more anxious when meeting other dogs.) Off-leash parks offer neutral territory where dogs can romp, run, chase balls and wrestle, while their human companions watch and chat. “Everyone wants to have safe dogs in their community,” says Kennedy. “Which means dogs that are well-socialized to people and different situations.”

But the most important benefit off-leash parks provide is community for dog owners, according to Emily Rosenberg, co-founder of the California Dog Owners Group (CalDOG). “That is often particularly important for young, stay-at-home parents, people who are single, and the elderly — basically people who are somewhat isolated in their lives,” she says. “The dog park gives them a daily routine and a form of community.” In fact, many owners consider a trip to the dog park as their main form of recreation.

End of excerpt

… next three pages of article include discussion of some of the key considerations in planning for dog parks, and discussion of cost and waste disposal issues.

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