Off-Leash Logistics: Lack of dog parks worrisome
The Piedmont Dog Park is one of only two public, off-leash dog parks in Atlanta. In 2002, the Piedmont Park Conservancy (PPC), a nonprofit organization in charge of restoring and maintaining the park, helped change the city laws in order to make provisions for the first off-leash space Intown. At the time, there were no dog parks and no laws on the books for such a place.
“There was a need for a dog park, with more families moving into Midtown with children,” said Monica Thornton, vice president and chief development and marketing officer of PPC. “Dogs had never been patrolled at Piedmont Park, so they were off-leash, running around. We went to the city to get an off-leash park in the park.”
Aside from raising money and making park improvements, PPC also plays a large role in brokering the needs of the different constituents of the park. Through conversations with the different groups, PPC hopes to find a way for everyone to use the park the way they want.
“One in five visitors to Piedmont Park have indicated in surveys that their reason for visiting is to use the dog park,” said Kay Stephenson, former chair of the Leash-free Alliance for Piedmont Park.
Despite this, there remains a dearth of off-leash areas for dogs Intown. The recent crackdown on leash laws has likely come as a result of complaints about dogs roaming free in urban areas.
“There has been a problem this year of people coming to the park and having their dogs off-leash – for safety, we have to play by the rules,” Thornton said. She encouraged anyone who sees a leash violation to call the police, as they would with any other law they see broken.
Unfortunately, as the leash laws get stricter, neighborhoods without a fenced-in dog park are not left with many options for socializing and exercising their dogs.
“Compared to other major metro areas, such as New York, San Francisco, Atlanta is not a dog-friendly city,” Stephenson said. “For example, pets are not allowed on public transit buses or trains. This makes it very difficult for those without private transportation to take pets to vet appointments. Fulton County’s health rules also prohibit pets in restaurants, including on patios. Some businesses are willing to risk the fines, but most are not. This was not always the case in the county and represents a trend in the wrong direction.”
According to Stephenson, dogs that have been properly socialized around other dogs and humans make for friendlier, better-behaved pets. Thus, the lack of dog parks contributes to a greater problem with off-leash incidents.
Some neighborhoods, like Candler Park, are considering following Piedmont’s lead to build a dog park for residents. “We had a neighborhood brainstorming meeting several months ago,” said Kate Sandhaus, communications officer of Candler Park Neighborhood Organization. “Residents were asked to generate project ideas for the neighborhood, and then we gauged interest for each of those ideas. A new neighborhood dog park was among the most popular of those ideas, with roughly a quarter of meeting attendees picking it as one of their top priorities for the neighborhood.”
However, the process, manpower, funds and space needed to create more neighborhood dog parks may be the reason behind the scarcity. “The city has established two acres as the minimum size for a dog park within the city limits,” Sandhaus said. “Unfortunately, it is not easy to find two contiguous acres in some neighborhoods that are available and appropriate for a dog park. Due to perceived, but generally not founded, concerns over noise and odors, nearby residents may not be willing to have a dog park as a neighbor. Also, it can be expensive to build and maintain these areas.”
One community that was able to find the acrerage was Castleberry Hill, which has the Railside Dog Park, at 210 Peters St. However, other communities have been resistant.
Randall Fox, vice president of marketing Atlanta Foundation for Public Spaces, has been working toward the establishment of a dog park in Chastain Park. Although they have raised money for the creation of the park and gotten over a thousand signed petitions, Fox said there is still resistance from the city.
“In Atlanta you have numerous parks but the guidelines are not encouraging dog parks, because you have to have two acres,” Fox said. “Chastain Park has 264 acres, but most of that is used for the golf course and tennis court. So the [Chastain Park] Conservancy was against the dog park.”
Fox said fenced-in dog parks would also be a preventative to off-leash problems. “The city should be putting dog parks in every park. It combats the people who take their dogs off-leash in the park, because they have somewhere to go.”