Carol Kruse walks the half-mile winding trail in Payne Park about twice a week because the red pebble path is easier on her knees and feet.
A few months ago, during one of those walks, a dog off its leash ran into Kruse near the park’s popular children’s playground. Kruse was OK, but the incident made her nervous because large dogs were running off leash so close to the children’s play area.
“If you have loose dogs and children (nearby), that is an accident waiting to happen,” Kruse said.
Kruse recently sent an email to city commissioners on the topic and has heard back from city officials. Although a city ordinance requires pet owners to keep dogs on a leash at several city parks — including Bayfront Park, Island Park (also known as Ken Thompson), Gillespie Park and Arlington Park — there is no such regulation at Payne Park or other parks in the city.
In January, city commissioners will discuss whether to extend the leash ordinance to Payne Park, the city’s $8.8 million signature park that opened in 2007. Another possible option is that the city builds a separate fenced dog area where dogs can run freely, said Mayor Suzanne Atwell. But, that would require that funding be set aside.
Commissioners could also decide to expand a pet-free area around the playground, similar to an area set aside at Sapphire Shores Park where dogs are not permitted.
“It depends on the philosophy of what commissioners want to do,” said Todd Kucharski, general manager of Parks and Environment with the city’s public works department. “The question will be how to proceed at Payne Park or all parks.”
Atwell said the city needs to look at all of its dog policies at parks.
“I love dogs,” Atwell said. “But we need some sort of framework so people feel safe going to a park.”
The issue of dogs and leash rules in parks has been controversial in the past. If the City Commission takes on the topic, as planned, the public will be able to weigh in at the January meeting.
“We’re going to have a discussion,” Atwell said. “I know there are a lot of people passionate about dogs. We will hear suggestions about all of our parks.”
Last Friday, Arnold Rich, who lives close to the park, walked his Jack Russell-Chihuahua mix, Peanut, along the park’s multiuse trail.
Rich said he sees dogs off leash everyday. On several occasions, larger unleashed dogs aggressively ran up to Peanut, who is always on a leash.
He says the city rule that pet owners can have their dog off leash as long as the dog is within 100 feet and in voice command doesn’t alleviate his worries.
“They might think they have that dog under control,” Rich said, “but if that dog decides it doesn’t like a smaller dog, there is nothing they can do about it.”
The leash regulations at Bayfront Park were put in place, in large part, because of similar situations in which residents complained that larger dogs were attacking smaller dogs, said Kucharski.
“This is about people’s safety, but it is also about dogs’ safety,” Atwell said. “People want to be able to safely walk their dogs and not worry about them being attacked by another dog.”
Kruse and Rich said there used to be a sign that told park-goers that dogs must be on a leash, but it was removed.
Lorraine Greer walks Payne Park’s multi-use trail during her lunch break. She has been seeing more and more dogs off leash.
“(That) makes me nervous,” Greer said. “They’re with their owner, but they are big dogs and off leash.”
Greer said she noticed one woman was texting on her phone while her dog ran loose and that the owner was not closely watching the dog.