Monday, April 30, 2007

AA News Article

With all my travelling I missed this article from Friday's News about last week's Ward Park meeting. I'd say the article is a fair overview of what transpired, but you won't find much detail.

The only surprise for me was the number that Amy Kuras quoted as her budget - $15-20,00. I may have misremembered or maybe she was talking about a smaller part of the total budget, but I was under the impression that it was only about $5k. We should be able to get something pretty nice for 15.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

A Modest Proposal

It is now abundantly clear that Swift Run will not be available for use until at least October and Ward Park is unlikely to get off the ground before then if ever. It looks like Ann Arbor is finally going to have an off-leash area within the next year or two. But the wait has already been too long, we have been promised that things were just in the future too many times, and the Ann Arbor dog-owning community needs a solution now.

Among the many obstacles, I understand that the budget for the neighborhood dog park program is extremely low. The number that I was quoted is barely enough to build a fence. Then of course there is the problem of convincing some neighborhood to host the first park of this kind before they have a chance to see how it will work.

With that in mind, I have been trying to think of solutions that might be workable in the near future. Here's one that I've come up with:

South Maple Park was originally chosen to be the pilot for a neighborhood dog park program. Apparently the community was in favor, the area is right, and parking is available. The problem is that the Utilities department maintains the area and wants to put a water tower there in the future. Naturally they don't want to get into a situation where they have to evict a dog park and look like the bad guys.

So why not consider putting up a temporary off-leash area on the South Maple site to serve as a functioning prototype for what is being proposed elsewhere. A relatively cheap fence could be used - Saline used a snow fence for it's temporary park when Mill Pond was being re-seeded last year. This park could be put up with the explicit understanding by all parties that it is a temporary solution that will be taken down once Swift Run is complete or when the water tower needs to go up (which I imagine will be long after Swift Run is open), or at some other time.

This provides a number of advantages:
  • First and most importantly for me, it provides an immediate off-leash solution for those of us who want to play safely and legally this summer.
  • Second, this is an area that meets the requirements set forth by the city and the neighborhood has already responded favorably to the idea of having a dog park, so the long meeting process could be avoided.
  • Third, the explicit understanding that it is a temporary solution should soothe the Utility department's concerns about having to close something down in the future. Being temporary also means that neighbors who may still be unsure won't be committed to a forever change.
  • Fourth, this provides the city a living laboratory to test its ideas of how a dog park should look, what kinds of rules would be necessary, any problems or benefits that will come to the neighborhood, etc. It also provides a model for the residents of other neighborhoods to look to when considering whether to host a permanent off-leash park.
  • Finally, this plan is rather inexpensive. The temporary fence could be put up at a fraction of the cost of a permanent chain link structure. Even the low pilot budget should be able to handle this plan including mowing, a couple of trash cans, and a sign with rules.

I don't like the idea of a temporary solution as much as a permanent one for obvious reasons - it would be too easy for the end of the temporary period to come and nothing to replace it. I also think the city has had more than ample time to implement something permanent. But I am realistic. A temporary solution either at South Maple or somewhere else (a small, surficial fence on part of the Swift Run site? a temp fence at Ward?) would relieve some of the pressure that we are currently feeling and actually provide the city with a way to step into its role as dog-park manager slowly rather than all at once.

I am forwarding this idea to the relevant people at City Hall and I hope that they are interested in moving quickly on something like this. Be assured that I will share whatever response I get.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Godwin and Children

Conversations about dog parks have an unfortunate tendency to move toward a comparison between children and dogs. This is almost never a good thing for people on either side of the debate so I'd like to propose a modification of Godwin's Law.

Descriptive law: The comparison of children and dogs or the introduction of children to any discussion of dogs (except where particularly relevant - safety, interactions, etc) always raises rhetorical temperatures and ends the productive exchange of ideas.

Prescriptive law: Never introduce children into a discussion about dog parks unless it is particularly relevant (what age to allow without parents, how to keep neighborhood kids from harassing the dogs, will the dogs bother nearby playing kids, etc). Doing so will result in the closing of all communicative channels and your point will be lost.

Dog owners feel very close to their dogs, they are truly members of the family. No matter how rational or valid your point may (or may not) be, any time you invoke a comparison between children and dogs non-dog people will only hear this: "I am a crazy person. I believe that my dogs are the heirs to my estate and will continue my family name. I also believe that your children are exactly the same as a feral schnauzer, raising them was not a big deal. I do not have human children because I am irresponsible and I will never be a real adult contributing to this society. Please disregard everything I have to say for the rest of the conversation."

Non-dog people also sometimes try to invoke a comparison of children and dogs to prove a point. At the Ward Park meeting Thursday someone asked how we could even consider providing a park for people with dogs when the children's services and schools need more money. The suggestion that children under a certain age might not be allowed in a dog park without parents was greeted with shock. During the discussion about children and adults, we were told that someone was "uncomfortable with this comparison between kids and dogs," but that he was disturbed that dogs would be allowed in the park but not unaccompanied kids. Of course the dogs would always be with adult humans too and the rules are for the kids' safety, but that's another post.

I understand that non-dog people sometimes make a comparison between dogs and kids because they hear a dog person make it and believe that all dog owners feel that way. But just the same, no matter how valid the point, if you invoke this comparison a dog person will only hear: "I am uptight and I believe that you are a crazy person. If you don't have children then you are not an adult and should not be treated as a full member of society. If you already have children then you should have more rather than spending any money on a dog. You should have no say over how your taxes are spent unless you have children. Adults without children are probably child molesters. Please be quiet while we adults figure out how to further marginalize you."

Both of those characterizations are unfair, but I really think it's what we on both sides of the argument hear. Since it's so far from what anybody actually wants to get across it invariably has the effect of ending the productive exchange of ideas. If everybody involved in the dog park issue would please refrain from comparing dogs to children, we will all be a lot happier.


Expect light posting during the next week. We are traveling to see my folks, then the in-laws.

In Kansas now, the land of many dog parks. Right now trying to decide which of the four nearby parks to go to today. I think we'll go to the bigger one that doesn't have a lake. We'll take some pictures.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Contact Information

I have been trying to compile a small list of people to contact at the city so that people can easily make their voices heard. I don't want to put too many names on the list for fear of overwhelming, but I have recently been told that we should be contacting Jayne Miller who oversees the Parks Planning office. I have searched the city web page and don't come up with any contact information for her. For that matter, there is apparently no central searchable list of city personnel e-mails and phone numbers.

If anybody out there knows where to access such a list or contact details for people we should be speaking to, please let me know. You can e-mail or just leave info in the comments.


Community Relations Train Wreck

As I have noted before, Parks and Rec is currently in the process of negotiating for increased patrols by AAPD. One of their major goals is to crack down on the "off-leash problem." During a public discussion about this recently, one of the PAC members suggested that perhaps the police could focus on issuing warnings and running people off rather than jumping right into the $500 fines. Her reasoning was that the A2 dog-owning community has nowhere to play legally and is getting frustrated, so ticketing us could lead to a "community relations train wreck."

I think that's an astute reading of the situation and I am grateful that the city understands the relationship between the "off-leash problem" and the lack of dog parks. However, I think there is already a community relations train wreck underway that is being overlooked.

The community relations problem is the city's unofficial policy of looking the other way rather than dealing with the problem. This encourages, or at least allows, people to continue breaking the law flagrantly. Non-dog owners who may already misunderstand or distrust people with dogs see this going on around them and only have their negative images of us reinforced. How can we convince community members that a dog park in their neighborhood will not attract irresponsible people and illegal behavior when they see us breaking the law every day? These laws may be seldom-enforced and we may understand that our dogs are under control and not dangerous, but to the people who dislike or fear dogs or who simply can't stand the thought of dogs running loose, that is little solace.

And so the image of dog-owners in Ann Arbor suffers. We are going through a community relations train wreck because the city refuses to provide us with the tools to apply the brake. Instead they shovel coal into the engine, facilitating the behavior that makes some non-dog people distrust us so deeply.

Let me be clear about this. I do not want a crack down on off-leash dogs. What I do want is for the city to deal with the problem by providing this service that is so badly needed. Create some places where people can exercise with their dogs legally and take the pressure off of them to find their own solutions. Once that is accomplished, then the city no longer has to feel obliged to turn a blind eye to law breaking and hopefully we can show the non-dog segment of the city that we are civil, responsible adults just like any other group of park users.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Ward Park Meeting

The Ward Park meeting got my heart rate up, but most of what happened was predictable.

Basically, the city has identified Ward Park as a viable off leash location because of the large unused (unmowed) area and the presence of some street parking. This meeting was meant to test the waters and find out what kind of support and opposition exists as well as the kinds of things that supporters would like to see happen there.

There were probably around 20 people at the meeting, maybe half indicated that they live within walking distance to the park. That's about half the number that showed up for the Swift Run meeting last June, but not a bad turn out altogether.

The response was generally positive. A large number of people were very vocal about their desire to see an off-leash area happen and their hopes for what it would entail. A smaller number of people voiced concerns about the park and a few outright opposition. This latter group was almost completely made up of people living right next to the park who were concerned about the park causing an increase in everything from traffic to child abductions.

The woman who led the meeting, Amy Kuras, did an admirable job of keeping the discussion focused and civil. Her job wasn't easy and I wouldn't have wanted it; she took a considerable amount of criticism from both proponents and opponents.

The major points of opposition focused on bad acts already being committed by dogs and irresponsible owners. Representatives of the condo community to the south of the proposed site said that they already have a major problem with off-leash dogs in their neighborhood and people not picking up after their dogs. They also worry that the park will be too popular and create a parking problem, a concern I shared in an earlier post.

A few people also worried that this would harm children in one way or another. The first person to speak on this issue said that having a number of adults with dogs near children (there is a playset on a separate area of the proposed property) could lead to children being hurt, presumably by either dog bites or adults doing things to harm the kids. Some concerns were raised about kids being evicted from this area, although it is currently unmowed and appears to be used very little if at all by children or anybody else.

At least one person was honest that she simply doesn't like dogs and doesn't want them in her neighborhood. She and another person who also isn't a dog person agreed that there should be a place somewhere in the city for people to play with their dogs, but for her it's Not In My Back Yard.

I find it ironic that most of the verbiage spoken in opposition to the plan directly addressed the reasons that a dog park is badly needed. The neighbors all agreed that there are a large number of dogs in the area already, some of which are not responsible and therefore causing problems. I'm not sure if they think that those dogs are coming in from Detroit, but odds are that those dogs are local. That means that there is a high density of dogs in this area already finding their own solutions to needs for play and potty.

Even with a dog park in the neighborhood there will always be some irresponsible folks who play off leash wherever they see fit or don't pick up after their dogs along the sidewalks, but a huge number of the people currently offending would surely opt for the safer and more-legal option of playing and pooping in the off-leash area. It seems like this gets said over and over, but providing a defined space for dogs relieves the pressure and draws most of that unwanted activity to within a fence. There the only people subject to loose canines and loose poo are people with dogs who have consciously chosen that risk.

There was also a considerable line of argument from the position of assuming that dog parks are for dogs and not people with dogs. I have to believe that the opponents have never been to a formal dog park, because they seem to believe that they are full of unsupervised wild animals fighting to the death. Again worth repeating, dog parks are places where people with dogs go to recreate and socialize. Most dog people are mature, civil adults who cause no more problems than people who go to parks to play basketball or tennis, to picnic, or to ice skate. I'm not sure why the idea of a dog park elicits visions of a canine Thunderdome among so many people, but it sure does.

The end result was also predictable - we need more meetings before we can decide whether to consider possibly going forward with a recommendation to consider planning a discussion about conditions under which a plan can be drawn up for proposal. Yes indeed, the wait goes on indefinitely. We were promised that another meeting will be planned in the near future to discuss more details about what might happen. The only thing that I think was definitely decided tonight is that if a dog park happens here, it must be fenced.

The struggle continues.

Vive La Canine Social Club!

We just got back from the Ward Park planning meeting. More on that later.

For now you'll be happy to learn that the Canine Social Club is alive and well. Their web page is down because the space had been a donation and the time ran out. Or something like that, I didn't get the whole story. But I was reassured that they still exist and are still organizing. Look for their page to be back up soon. Also watch for some collaboration between CSC and arbordog.

Canine Social Club No More?

For several years the group doing most of the organizing around the Ann Arbor dog park issue was the Canine Social Club. I tried a few times to get involved with them or at least to get on their e-mail list with little luck. I always figured that my e-mail was filtering their messages or something similar on my end. But their web page (dead link) has been down for at least a week now so I suspect that there is a bigger problem.

I hope the CSC hasn't met its end under the weight of frustration and ongoing struggle, we really need that kind of grass-roots organization if we are going to get results. I have contacted a former member and will be getting more information this weekend. Also I hope to run into some CSC people at the Ward Park meeting tonight and find out where they stand. I'll let you, both of my loyal readers, know what I find out right here as soon as I know something.

Ward Park Meeting Today

Don't forget. The community meeting to discuss Ward Park as an off-leash area is tonight!

If you have time, please come and voice your support for an immediate solution to the lack of off-leash space in Ann Arbor.

Ann Arbor Church of Christ
2500 South Main Street

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Ward Park

This weekend I checked out Ward Park, the maybe possible site of a proposed maybe off-leash area. It is off Main street between Busch's and Briarwood.

The place seems nice enough, there is a little play set and a big open area behind it. I presume that this open area is the maybe kinda sorta proposed area for the possibly later dog park that will be under discussion tomorrow. I think it could be a fine park, but I do have a few reservations.

First, the open area is currently covered in weeds and brush, largely consisting of thorn trees. Right now since the weeds haven't come up yet it would be a fine place to play, but to be usable in the summer, it will have to be cleared and mowed. Call me cynical, but I have to believe that clearing the area will involve another round of meetings and planning and cost us at least an additional month before we have an off-leash area.

Also, the notice for tomorrow night's planning meeting indicates that this location was chosen because of ample parking. There certainly is some street parking in the area, but there are exactly zero parking spots painted and designated for the park. In fact, Ward Park is nestled among some large apartment complexes and I can imagine that people will be tempted to use their lots for overflow. Unless I missed something (very possible since I didn't spend much time looking), there really isn't much more parking at Ward Park than any other park in town.

Those were my main observations. Ward could be a great place for a dog park; there are plenty of places in town that could be good candidates if the city would just quit dragging its feet and take action.

Don't forget about the planning meeting tomorrow. The main thing we need to find out is when Ward Park will be open, how we can be sure that it will really happen this time, and what the city will do to provide a solution for us in the interim.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Rotating Hours

In the never-ending process of talking about possible dog park solutions without ever having to take action, a system of rotating hours has been suggested. In fact, one of the Parks Advisory Commission (PAC) members who is sympathetic to our frustration recently told me that this is what we should be lobbying for rather than a proper dog park. I think a rotating hours system could work, but only as a partial solution and only if it were organized right.

Basically the idea is that rather than building a fence and designating it as permanent off-leash area, the city would declare that a certain area in a certain park was an off-leash area during certain hours. In a rotating system, this designation would shift between different parks on different days so that each neighborhood gets its share of off-leash time.

There are two major reasons (and a handful of smaller ones) that this is probably insufficient.
  • First is the problem of safety. If an area is not permanently designated for off-leash, it is unlikely to get a fence. Without a fence there will always be problems with dogs getting out. It would only take one squirrel to get their attention and we could end up with dogs in the street, lost dogs, even dogs hit by cars. Ann Arbor has the resources for a safe solution and we deserve it.
  • The other major problem I foresee is scheduling. Having an off-leash area available for a few hours a week is not sufficient. We like to take our dogs to play every day. We've always done that when we lived in other towns and we would do it now if it were possible. So far there is no guarantee that a rotating hours system would include an off-leash area during all park hours. There is no reason to believe that dog time wouldn't be pushed to the most undesirable hours of the week, restricted to just one or two days city-wide, or subject to change at the whim of the city.

I do like the idea of off-leash hours insofar as it brings dog park to several neighborhoods at least once a week. However, this cannot be the primary solution to the problem. Safety has to be the primary concern and this means that we need fenced areas. Ideally there would be small neighborhood off-leash areas all over town in addition to the large Swift Run facility. That would allow people to walk and still be safe and available all the time. There is certainly the demand and resources for that, just not the will.

Let the City know that you demand a safe and convenient solution for the dog park problem.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Ward Park Planning Meeting

Next Thursday April 26, there will be a community meeting to discuss possible plans for an off-leash dog area at Ward Park.

If the response is good, this would be an area in addition to the ever-delayed Swift Run park. Sounds good, but you'll understand that I am a bit skeptical.

You see, this is exactly the kind of meeting that was held at Bryant Elementary almost a year ago to discuss plans for Swift Run. The response at that meeting was overwhelmingly positive and it was there that we were promised a dog park by Fall 2006, no later than Spring 2007.

We at arbordog will certainly be at the Ward Park Meeting and we will be asking for assurances that this plan will be implemented immediately. The more people who come and support the plan, the more likely it is to become reality. The more people who speak to the urgency of the problem and voice their skepticism with long-term "maybe sorta" plans, the more likely immediate action is to be taken.

So come out and let your voice be heard if you can.

Community Meeting for Planning Ward Park Off-Leash Area
Thursday, April 26 7:00 PM
Ann Arbor Church of Christ
2500 South Main Street

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Is YOUR Dog a Criminal?

Allowing a dog to be off-leash on city property is grounds for a fine up to $500.00

"Fine, but the city usually looks the other way" you say?

You should know that the city is currently negotiating with the AAPD for increased patrols of parks. One of the primary aims of these increased patrols will be to crack down on the off-leash "problem."

So Ann Arbor is willing to pour money into an operation that could cost you for enjoying the city with fluffy, but they won't take action to provide you a place to do it for free. WHY NOT?

Contact the city using the links at the right and demand that they take care of this "problem" the right way. And demand that they do it NOW.

Tell the City to Take Action

The city of Ann Arbor continues to stall and delay its plans for an off-leash dog play area. As of now, there will be no safe and legal off-leash area in Ann Arbor until at least October 2007. Of course, last June we were told that it would be available in Fall of 2006 so that's a best-case-scenario.

Contact the people who can make this happen sooner and tell them that we need a dog park NOW.
Who to contact:

Mayor John Hieftje:

Manager of Parks and Recreation
Christen Smith:

Your City Council Member:
Find information at:

Important Points:
  • The city maintains over 2,000 acres of park land, but not a single acre for dogs
  • Playing off-leash in a non-designated area is illegal and unsafe
  • Last June we were promised an off leash area by Fall 2006
  • The city PROS plan identifies off-leash play area as one of the parks system's most pressing needs
  • Our dogs cannot wait indefinitely, we need an area NOW
  • The city has the resources to make this happen, it only lacks the will
Be polite but firm and let us know in the comments if you get any feedback.