Council members delay decision on dog restrictions in parks

ccampbell@newsobserver.comFebruary 11, 2014 

— A Raleigh City Council committee on Tuesday punted controversial restrictions on dogs in parks back to the full council, saying it wants more time to discuss the heated proposal that’s been on the table for nearly a year.

The proposed restrictions would ban dogs from playgrounds, athletic fields, basketball courts and other sports facilities. Even on a leash, man’s best friend would have to watch ball games and kids at play from outside the fence.

The rules also would require leashes of 6 feet or shorter on greenways and in parks; fines for leash and “pooper scooper” repeat offenders would be increased.

Howling over poop, injuries

The debate goes back to the full City Council next Tuesday but could drag on longer.

“I don’t see this being settled at the next council meeting,” Councilman John Odom said.

City parks officials say they’ve dealt with dog droppings disrupting Little League games, safety issues with children encountering dogs on playgrounds, and long leashes tripping bicyclists.

On greenways, dog-related “injuries have ranged from minor cuts and bruises to ruptured organs,” said Wayne Schindler, parks superintendent.

“It’s not even geographic; it’s across the city where people are using fields as quasi-dog parks,” said parks superintendent Ken Hisler, pointing to complaints from more than a dozen different parks.

Dog owners bite back

But some dog owners say athletic fields should be able to accommodate dogs and sports – just not at the same time.

“I don’t see an issue if my wife takes our dogs and we run them in the park at 10 in the morning when there’s nobody out there, we pick up the poop, and we leave,” David Lipton said.

Many dog owners said they’d back a playground ban and higher fines, but the ban at sports facilities and the short leash requirement drew fire. Lipton said speeding bicyclists are to blame as much as dog owners.

If a cyclist comes down a hill at 30 mph and startles a dog, “I don’t see how a six-foot leash is going to prevent that,” he said.

More dog parks needed

Others pointed to the increasing number of condos and apartments in and around downtown; as more residents live without yards, their pets need places to exercise. Some dog owners worry that tougher rules would discourage pet ownership and overburden area shelters.

Raleigh only has three dog parks, with plans to build two more – at Leesville Road Park and Buffaloe Road Athletic Park – on hold because of a lack of funding. Parks officials also set a “not in my backyard” pushback helped scuttle the plans.

“Everyone agrees: We need more space,” ban opponent Clodagh Bastian said. “We need more access for dogs.”

Councilman Odom said he supports the new restrictions but isn’t sure they’ll solve the problems.

“I think this is a nightmare of enforcement,” he said. “I think this is a piece of paper.”

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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