Manassas Journal Messenger | A dog park would work if done right

Seldom does my opinion differ much from the lead editorial on the Potomac News opinion page, but in the case regarding dog parks in the Sept. 13 edition, I must disagree.

For ease of reading I will refer to the focus of this column as “dog parks,” however, a more accurate phrase would be “dog exercise and socialization area.”

One of the most compelling reasons to have such an area is in order to cultivate more friendly and social dogs. Many dog incidents that occur these days are due to a lack of sufficient interaction between dogs and strangers or dogs and other dogs.

When people who are out walking their dogs pass on the sidewalk, it can be a tense situation. Dogs tend to be very protective of their owners and when restrained by a collar and leash they feel threatened due to that restraint.

By their vary nature, dogs need to run. This activity is as important to them as a carnivorous diet.

I agree that tax dollars should not be spent on such projects. Then again, the need for county-operated dog parks is necessitated by the fact that the county has a restrictive leash law.

When the government creates a law that prohibits citizens from letting their dogs run free in an open area, it has shaped a situation that requires it to compensate for the freedom it has removed or restricted.

Unfortunately the concerns about liability are legitimate since we live in an extremely litigious society. On the other hand, if one looks at the issue objectively, the county would be no more liable than it is for any other recreational facility.

In fact, when walking your “leashed” dog on county property there is neither an overt nor implied indication that the county cannot be held liable for the actions of the dog.

A dog park would have a clear list of rules topped by a large, unambiguous disclaimer. This statement would declare that by entering the unsupervised dog park you agree to the terms and conditions of its use… that such entry is at an individuals own risk and the county assumes no responsibility or liability.

In addition to the legal disclaimer, there are some other requirements that must be posted. The following are just a few:

? Dogs must be up to date on all vaccinations and wear a collar with their rabies tag attached.

? They must be over four months old.

? They may not be in heat, no grooming should take place, dog toys and treats of any kind should be prohibited.

? Any dog that barks excessively or shows aggressive behavior toward other dogs or humans should be immediately removed from the grounds by its owner.

Oh yeah? and the owner must stay in the dog park at all times ? this is not meant to be a dog sitting service.

The concern over legal issues should not be very difficult to navigate. Dog parks are located throughout the United States. Even our neighboring jurisdictions – Fairfax County, Alexandria, and Arlington – have overcome the liability issue, as they have five, four and six parks respectively.

I may be opening the proverbial can of worms by my next statement but I figure someone is bound to, so I might as well squash the idea right now.

There are some folks who seem to thrive on bureaucratic red tape and complicated administrative procedures. This can be seen in the requirement for a “membership” to use some dog parks around the nation. To get a membership one must fill out paperwork at the government center, which includes: an application with a photo of the dog, membership fees, annual renewals and issuance of a special tag that the dog must have on its collar while in the park.

This is unnecessary, costly and inconvenient. As far as I know, none of our neighboring jurisdictions has such a requirement and it should not be considered when planning for parks in Prince William.

A membership requirement would place gratuitous costs on the taxpayer in the form of additional administrative work that would be necessary to maintain a membership database and code enforcement.

As for the maintenance of a dog park, people who bring their dogs to such parks are usually very conscientious about maintaining the grounds as they desire a safe and clean place for their pets.

The expense of setting up a business enterprise, which would include the necessity of establishing a membership based business, administration costs, real estate taxes and the legal considerations necessitated by government regulations (to name just a few) would make a private endeavor very costly.

The private memberships of such a business would be too expensive to all but a small number of people with higher incomes in the county – most of who probably live on property already suitable for their dog’s exercise needs.

I believe that a partnership between the county and local businesses could provide for many park expenses such as lawn care and trash removal. Expenses can be greatly offset by allowing certain companies like pet stores, landscapers, trash companies and veterinarians to advertise on signs at the park (similar to those in the outfield at the Cannons baseball stadium), in exchange for directly providing services or paying for needed services.

James Simpson lives in Lake Ridge and owns two dogs that would very much like the opportunity to run around in a safe environment with other furry friends.

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