Friday, April 27, 2007

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.

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