Debating Dog Parks 

Pet park problems

Standing before the Boise Parks and Recreation board of commissioners on July 17, Cherrie Rasmussen couldn't get through her two-minute testimony without breaking into tears.

"I try to keep this neighborhood together, but we're fighting," she said.

Her neighborhood is at odds over a pilot project introduced to 72-acre Marianne Williams Park in East Boise 8-acre Williams Park in southeast Boise that allows dogs to be off-leash from sunrise to 10 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to sunset.

Parks and Rec, meeting to decide whether to continue the year-old project, hosted 40 minutes of public testimony ranging from nods of support, to accusations and tears.

The folks most unhappy with the policy were those, like Elaine Finch, whose houses border the park. She reported a "huge" increase in barking, occasional dog fights and a change in the demographic of the park.

"There's no kids there anymore," Finch said. "There used to be kids all the time. Now it's just dogs and adults. We all own dogs, but this affects everyone. It's a neighborhood, not a dog park."

Another speaker claimed a sharp decrease in youth sports teams practicing in the park since it became off-leash, but commissioner Stephen Smith said he was recently on the board of youth lacrosse and heard of no problems. In general, Parks and Rec said it hasn't heard many complaints related to the dog policy from parents.

Still, one woman complained that during her child's birthday party, a few 11-year-old boys wrestling in the grass came back with their arms smeared with dog feces.

Underscoring the point about dog waste, neighborhood homeowner Peter Reed presented the commissioners with a video that opened with a close-up of a pile of dog feces. It continued showing owners and dogs playing together, though video time-stamps revealed they were doing so outside of designated off-leash hours.

A few community members testified in favor of the dog park, enthusiastic about bringing more life to the park, creating more socialization in the neighborhood and providing ready outdoor access to those with pets.

Further complicating the public opinion picture, a recent survey of neighbors within a half-mile radius of the park showed 70 percent in favor and 30 percent opposed to the off-leash policy.

After striking down motion after motion--the commission finally settled on extending the pilot project another year, and might adjust evening times in August. Commissioners also promised to reevaluate criteria for off-leash parks in general.

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