Seattle is into dogs, which outnumber children in the city by 130,000 to 90,000. So dog parks are important institutions, and we have 11 of them. But dog-off-leash parks (DOLPs) are not really about dogs: They are about people. They are about Seattle citizens. They are about us. Allow me to illustrate.
On Labor Day I visited nine them and was absolutely fascinated by how different each was. I resisted the temptation to rank the parks as some being better than others. The fact is they all work.
I began with the I-5 Colonnade Park in Eastlake, which seemed awfully noisy. (Duh! It'ês under the freeway.) One guy was tossing a ball for his dog. The mountain bikers were having a ball, there being a great mountain bike course that runs beside this DOLP.
Proximity to the freeway is not a park killer. Consider that most interesting park, a tiny one called Plymouth Pillars. Slammed up against the freeway in downtown Seattle, it is at the wretched intersection of Boren and Pike and the freeway. But there is this little fenced-in park. The park is lucky to have a dedicated and gregarious guardian, Patrick Jones, who lives in an apartment a stone'ês throw away.
Patrick had talked to the kids drinking and drugging on the benches just outside the park, and asked them nicely to go elsewhere. They did. Patrick is the guy who brought in a herd of goats to eat the Himalayan blackberries. They did. He has also placed lath, vertically, with the names of dogs alive and dead between the park and the freeway. Perennial flowers he has planted next to the lath so that owners of now deceased dogs can clip a flower in the spring or summer and take it home with him or her to remind them of the dog. Patrick is a transplanted New Yorker. Where can we find more like him?
To have an effective DOLP you don'êt need much: Proximity to where you live is important. A flat area covered in gravel (for drainage during the wet months) and where dog owners can gather informally and chat is good. You need good fencing, and a regularly emptied garbage can or two. Mostly you need responsible owners who keep their dogs on leash until they are in the park, and pick up and properly dispose of the poop.
At several parks — Magnuson, Plymouth Pillars, Golden Gardens, and several others — Seattle citizens were giving and getting great pleasure in socializing, every once in a while glancing around to see that their critter was also having a good time. Invariably the dogs were, mostly playing some sort of doggy hide and seek or tag. The dogs know that they are on neutral territory and not once did I hear a dog lose its temper with another. One park, Northacres, is woodsy and trailed. People like the trails and woodsiness but I felt that the dogs preferred open spaces where they could race around.
Establishing these 11 parks has been the labor of years. Councilwoman Jan Drago, her assistant Barbara Clemons, and a citizens group called COLA (great web site) have worked for years at this. One could do an entire article on what these two women and COLA have accomplished. All 130,000 Seattle dogs (and their owners) should pause for a moment and thank them. Most importantly they have established and put into place a process involving several agencies to get a DOLP up and running.
A word needs to be said about enforcement. Animal Control has a no-tolerance policy. If your dog is abroad, off leash, and unlicensed, and if you get busted, it can be very expensive. You do not want to go there. Animal control has a truck with a winch on top that could, I swear, reel in an elephant. You do not mess with these guys. But they must be doing something right. (Not so much the case in King County, apparently.) When was the last time you saw a dog on the loose in Seattle? And the animal control officer tells me that that they get only a few complaints a day. So they are doing a thankless job right, right?
On a cheerier note is Dog-O-Ween. An event sponsored by COLA, it draws more than 200 dog owners to Genesee Park with their dogs in costume. Mark your calender: Saturday, September 24. A fundraiser for COLA, it is a time of continuous outright hilarity and the joys of being together.
In my tour of DOLPs, I came up with one suggestion. The Port of Seattle owns small and large parcels of property on the Duwamish River. They don'êt police it. The city'ês animal control does not police it. So you can take your dog for a swim there (I have no idea how polluted the water is). Would COLA maybe be interested in using some of this land for DOL parks? Heck, everyone wants waterfront — dogs too.
At dusk while I was hiking out to the DOL area on Magnuson, my eyes were pulled to three all-white dogs near some tall bushes by the water. They we motionless, ghostly, beautiful. Then I saw a woman, dressed in standard Northwest green waterproof camouflage. She was tall, attractive, and spoke with an English accent. Name of Joanne. The dogs were all pure-white Alsatians that glowed in the evening light. She feels safe at night with them. The smallest one, she said, hated DOL parks, but loved to hike. Joanne was taking her on a 100-mile hike in the Cascades next week.
Another reason to love living in Seattle.