By Kim Gilliam
In October 2018, the Brookville Road Park opened on state-owned property in Chevy Chase, Maryland to give neighborhood dogs a fenced area for off-leash play. For Alexandrians, who live in a city full of dog parks and exercise areas, with 18 listed on the city website, this sounds like good news. So why is it dividing their community and gaining national attention?
The problem is excessive barking. Yes, it’s just dogs being dogs – chasing balls, wrestling and zooming around – but it has been declared a nuisance by nearby neighbors who have made numerous calls to the police and complaints to the Chevy Chase Village Board in recent months.
The board has tried to find a compromise by changing the opening time from 7 to 8 a.m., reducing parking availability for those coming from outside the immediate area and removing the dog park from the Village website. They even paid an epidemiologist to spend weeks studying the behavior of the dogs and their humans. In 54 visits, she only witnessed seven dog owners who drove to the park instead of walking and only one allowed their dog to relieve himself on the greenspace next to the street. The fate of the park will be likely be decided at a public hearing on Sept. 9.
This does make one think about the pros and cons of having a dog park. The potential pitfalls are readily apparent, such as aggressive dogs/injury, the spread of parasites and disease, poor management of dogs resulting in bad behavior and people not picking up after their dog in or around the park.
However, a poll conducted in September 2018 by the National Recreation and Park Association of more than 1,000 adults in the United States found that 91 percent of Americans believe dog parks provide benefits to the communities they serve. As such, more than half of park and recreation agencies have at least one dog park. Respondents listed the top three benefits a dog park can have:
• 60 percent said it gives pets a safe space to exercise off-leash;
• 48 percent said it gives dogs the ability to socialize with other dogs;
• 36 percent said it allows owners a chance to be physically active with their pets.
Dog parks can also provide educational opportunities for owners to learn about dog behavior through observation and from talking with more experienced owners about training a well-mannered dog. Fenced dog parks provide a place to go for folks who might otherwise let their dogs off-leash in on-leash parks. This reduces the hazards from dogs running among cars, rollerbladers, skateboarders, bikes, etc.
All of this hinges on participants being responsible dog owners. They must help to properly maintain the park and its surrounding area, adhere to park rules and regulations, pay full attention to their dog to ensure good behavior and immediately correct or remove dogs that are exhibiting bad behavior.
By all accounts, the Chevy Chase dog park goers have been responsible, they just can’t seem to keep their dogs from happily barking during play. It will be interesting to see how the Sept. 9 hearing plays out. In the meantime, let this be a helpful reminder to Alexandrians to please be considerate and attentive when at the dog park. We sure are fortunate we live in such a dog-centric town.
The writer co-owns Frolick Dogs, an indoor dog gym in Alexandria, with her husband, Kevin Gilliam.