Go ahead and let your pooch run free -- the Mountain View City Council unanimously voted to make handful of public parks more dog-friendly by allowing canines to roam off-leash. The approval on Tuesday night, May 26, would make permanent a pilot program designed to test off-leash rules.
The pilot phase began about one year ago, with city officials setting aside unfenced areas at seven public parks for dogs to run freely and play. Of course, dog-owners were already letting their pets loose at parks, but the pilot program represented the first significant effort by city to regulate and map out where this would be allowed.
The issue hit home for dog-lovers, and nearly a dozen owners made a show of force before the council, relating stories about how their favorite pets needed the exercise and freedom offered by public open space. For the most part, the canines brought to the parks are well-behaved and not aggressive, said Mountain View resident Richard Woolley, who has been bringing his dog to Bubb Park for 12 years.
Since the pilot program started, reports of dog attacks have been practically non-existent, he pointed out. Instead, the biggest complaint has been dog-owners using the parks during off-hours.
"Dogs in general are not scary," Woolley said. "I realize safety is paramount. The record, at least at Bubb, has been excellent in this regard."
A number of dog owners echoed this theme, urging the council to make the dog-designated areas a permanent fixture in parks.
But that suggestion wasn't entirely shared by members of the city's own Parks and Recreation Commission, who suggested the system still needed to work out some kinks. After a long meeting to review the program last month, the commission concluded the best path forward was to extend the pilot phase for another year to figure out the best balance of enforcement, scheduling and boundaries.
In some cases, dog owners didn't fully understand how their animals could appear threatening to others, said city Parks Manager Bruce Hurlburt.
"Oftentimes, dog owners will have the blinders on with their dog," he said. "They love their dog and they assume all people love being around dogs."
That sentiment resonated for local resident Dwight Rodgers, who spoke before the council. He related how dogs running loose around the park had effectively ruined times when he and his 6-year-old son were tossing around a ball.
"I'm one of the people who love dogs, but my child is deathly afraid of them," he said. "I've often seen people in violation of the hours and they don't cede the park when kids try to use it."
Enforcement would be a challenge, Hurlburt said. As part of the approval, the city budgeted an extra 30 hours per week for rangers to patrol parks, at a cost of $52,000. Those rangers are authorized to educate dog owners about following the rules, but they can't write citations for flagrant violations. Only the city's animal-control officers were authorized to issue tickets.
Despite the challenges, council members unanimously favored making the program permanent. Making a motion, Mayor John McAlister opted to also expand hours for off-leash dogs at Whisman Park to include weekends. A new area for off-leash canines would also be created at Rengstorff Park that could be used seven days a week. In addition, parks staff in the coming months will bring the issue back to the Parks and Recreation Commission to consider expanding evening and weekend hours at other open areas.
The motion passed in a 7-0 vote.