Everybody in Salt Lake City owns a dog. At least that's the way it seems. You see people walking dogs everywhere and playing with them, usually off leash, in city parks, on schoolgrounds, anywhere there is a swath of grass and a few trees for sniffing and peeing.
The Becker administration is barking up the right tree with its proposal to create a master planning process for more dog parks, perhaps including fees for use of off-leash areas and rangers to enforce the rules. It has asked the City Council's blessing to hold public meetings and solicit comment on ideas to improve the ways the city's off-leash dog parks are used and how to add to them.
The only thing of which we are certain is that most folks hold strong opinions about dogs and dog owners and how they should be regulated. Let the rumpus begin.
The city's department of public services has done some preliminary research and come up with a few recommendations. Among them, it would:
• Enforce leash laws in all areas not designated off-leash. Outside of designated off-leash areas, all city sidewalks, trails and public spaces are on-leash facilities.
• Amend city ordinances to refer to dog owners as "guardians."
• Set a two-dog limit per guardian for all city sidewalks, trails and public spaces.
• Refine the process for creating an off-leash area.
• Allocate funds to acquire, design and construct new off-leash areas.
• Implement a ranger program.
New dog parks and rangers would cost money. The administration is talking about an annual fee and tag for animals that use fenced off-leash areas and another for those who use designated, unfenced off-leash areas. The fees would help pay for the improvements.
That's a good idea. While parks should be funded by general tax revenues, fees for uses that place special demands on parks are not unfair, and the fencing for off-leash areas and the cleanup of those areas are expensive. If people want the dog parks, they should be willing to pay a little extra for them.
There's no question that there is a need in the city for more dog-friendly parks that can serve furry friends without inconveniencing other park patrons and neighbors. It's timely for Salt Lake City to begin this conversation.