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Loosely followed law

Thu., Feb. 13, 2014

Complaints of pets off-leash in parks up, SCRAPS says

When Ginny Cornwall adopted an adult dog she anticipated some problems, but she didn’t expect that taking her dog for walks in nearby Manito Park would turn into the challenge it’s become.

“I live near the park, and I have been walking in it for 27 years,” Cornwall said. “There have always been loose dogs in the park, but it’s a much bigger problem now than it has ever been.” Cornwall keeps her dog on a leash but said it gets extremely anxious when an unleashed dog comes running up to sniff it.

“There is this panic moment that happens when a loose dog comes up to us,” Cornwall said. “It’s not fair that we have to go through that panic not knowing if the other dog is friendly or not.” She’s at a loss for what to do except asking people to put their dog on a leash. She’s not strong enough to pick up her dog to get it out of the way.

“My husband can do that,” Cornwall said, “but then the loose dog usually jumps up on him. It’s just not a good situation.”

After a few too many incidents of unleashed-dog attention, a frustrated Cornwall called Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service to complain.

It turns out she wasn’t the only one calling.

“SCRAPS has responded to several recent complaints regarding dogs being off-leash in Manito Park,” said Nancy Hill, regional director of SCRAPS, which is in charge of animal control in Spokane County. “We are in the process of planning some education emphasis patrols in that area.”

The law is pretty simple: Dogs must be on a leash that’s no more than 8 feet long when they aren’t on private property.

There are only two places in Spokane County where dogs are allowed off leash: the fenced dog park at High Bridge Park operated by SpokAnimal and at the Patricia Simonet Laughing Dog Park operated by SCRAPS, just east of Spokane Valley.

“Dogs should be on a leash in all other parks,” Hill said.

That makes no sense to dog owner Jon Welge who likes to take his dog out for a game of fetch in Upper Manito Park at the end of the day.

Welge was recently contacted by a SCRAPS officer and asked to put his dog on a leash while in Manito Park.

“I don’t see what the problem is with me playing fetch when there’s no one else around,” Welge said, adding that his dog is so friendly “it’s likely to lick you to death if it ever did anything.”

Welge said he leashes his dog on sidewalks, picks up after it and stays out of the way of other people.

“I’m a responsible dog owner,” Welge said.

He added that he sees many people break the leash law, not just in Manito Park but by walking dogs off leash on the bluff off High Drive and on undeveloped land south of 63rd Avenue near Mullan Elementary School, which has become an unofficial dog park.

Welge believes Spokane leash laws should change.

“These laws don’t fit with the practices that people employ in the community,” Welge said.

He would like to see a “dog disposition certification program” that would test a dog, and if it’s found friendly and properly socialized, it would be allowed to run off leash in parks after dark.

SCRAPS’ Hill said that sounds like an enforcement nightmare.

“I’ve never heard of such a program anywhere else,” she said. “For public safety and for the safety of the animal, dogs should be on a leash.”

Certified professional dog trainer Carol Byrnes, owner of Diamonds in the Ruff, agrees that leash laws are about public safety – they are there to make sure people and dogs don’t get bitten.

“People who don’t like dogs have a right to enjoy the park without having a dog rush up to them,” Byrnes said. “The same goes for dogs that haven’t been well socialized or just aren’t accepting of other dogs in their space.”

If a dog walker with a leashed dog is approached by a loose dog, Byrnes said the best thing to do is to move slowly away from the approaching dog, following a C-shaped path, and if possible going behind a car or a bench.

She suggests yelling “No! Go Home!” at the unleashed dog.

“It’s likely the loose dog has heard that phrase a few times before,” Byrnes said, adding that throwing treats on the ground for the approaching dog may serve as a diversion as well.

Tony Madunich, director of park operations for Spokane Parks and Recreation Division, wrote in an email that leash laws absolutely apply in city parks.

“And we have been hearing an increasing number of complaints about people not complying,” Madunich wrote, adding there’s also a city ordinance requiring people to pick up waste left behind by their dogs. “That’s a problem, too.”

So, why let the dog off leash in the first place?

Welge said playing fetch is the most efficient way for him to exercise his dog.

“It’s fun. I throw the ball – he gets it and brings it back to me,” Welge said.

Byrnes said her best advice to dog owners who want to let their dogs run off the leash is to go to a dog park when it’s the least busy.

“Playing fetch at the dog park can be difficult if all the dogs are competing with your dog for his own ball,” Byrnes added.

Byrnes and Hill both strongly support the opening of more off-leash dog parks in the area.

Cornwall said she’s still walking her dog in Manito Park, and she’s working with a dog trainer. She hopes to see more leash signs in parks and that people will follow the rules

“I do worry there will be more loose dogs when the weather gets better,” Cornwall said. “I hope people just need a little reminder that there may be consequences if you don’t leash up your dog.”


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