Anchorage considers establishing dog parks

Posted: Monday, September 24, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A group of dedicated dog owners is proposing that dog parks be established for Anchorage's estimated 50,000 canine citizens.

A simple sentence has been tucked into the city's proposed animal law to establish the parks. It says, ''The municipality shall establish designated areas, known as dog parks, for dogs off leash.''

Dog parks are good for dogs and people, says Kayla Epstein, spokeswoman for DOG, the Anchorage Dog Owners Group. Dogs learn to play together and how to behave around people, which makes them friendlier.

Public hearings are due to begin in October.

Over the past decade, U.S. cities have created more than 500 parks for dogs, says Vicki Kung of San Rafael, Calif., co-founder of a clearinghouse, Fairbanks is considering such a park.

Seattle had nine, and all worked well except one, a city parks official says. The Volunteer Park dog area on Capitol Hill was closed after urine damaged historic trees. The city would have opened another dog area in the same park, but an environmental lawsuit squelched the plan.

Dog owners in Anchorage rampantly disobey the current law that requires dogs to be on leashes when they're not confined on private property. Owners risk lectures from other trail and park users, and city fines start at $50 a dog for the first offense.

But the city animal control contractor does not enforce the law vigorously and generally only responds to complaints, said enforcement supervisor Steve Duwa.

Epstein chairs the 30-member Dog Owners Group, which presented a dog park plan to the Anchorage Animal Control Advisory Board. In August, the board included the idea in its final recommendation for major revisions to the city animal law.

''That was something everyone on the board supported,'' said member Neil Koeniger. ''I think socialization is an excellent thing for animals, especially dogs.'' When they learn to get along with other dogs and people, they don't fight or bite, he said.

''We have a lot of large breeds in this town,'' said Mike Walsh, animal board chairman. With a place to run, ''the animal's going to be healthier.''

No one has proposed any specific dog park places yet. That will wait until early next year, when the Anchorage Assembly is scheduled to vote on the board's recommendations.

Dogs on trails can be dangerous, says Nordic skier Jim Burkholder.

''If we're going to choose (Far North) Bicentennial Park or Kincaid Park or Russian Jack Springs Park and say it's for unrestricted dog use, I think it's a problem,'' Burkholder said. Dog parks should be in smaller, confined areas, such as baseball fields in the off-season, he said.

Ideally, Epstein said, dog parks would be buffered from neighborhoods and not in conflict with other park users. DOG would like to see a variety of parks: fenced areas, multiuse parks at specific times, trails, and fields and ponds where off-leash dogs are always welcome.

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