As a creator of off-leash parks in Santa Monica, Calif., my organization learned what works, plus the pros and cons. It took us three years to change 50-year-old laws pertaining to dogs in parks and to create off-leash areas around the city. It also took an open-minded city council, press coverage, 1,500 members of a grassroots organization, and a few celebrities and politicians thrown in. We discovered the following:
1. People will use off-leash parks if they are located near their home.
2. A portion of the off-leash space should be reserved for small dogs only separately enclosed. It's a safety issue.
3. There should be rules like no food in the off-leash areas; aggressive dogs must be removed or muzzled; current license and shots required; dog handlers are legally responsible for dogs' behavior; no dogs in heat allowed, etc. To enforce the rules, either animal control officers or a designated organization should be around to report changes, problems, or safety issues.
Water in off-leash areas is important for dogs, but using the same bowl can spread disease like kennel cough.
Small wood chips are better on the dogs' feet than gravel. The best covering is grass if the area is flat. Trees are a must and seating makes it comfortable. Comfort is nice but handlers must pay attention to their dog at all times to pick up and monitor dog behavior.
Dog parks are not as simple as it may appear and they cost money to create and maintain. It's a responsibility many don't want. People just want an enclosed area to exercise and socialize their dog while they socialize with others, often before or after work.
Unfortunately, I've seen people with broken legs because dogs were playing and ran into a handler. I've seen small children pushed down and seriously hurt by dogs playing or seeing them as prey. I've seen a small dog killed in a park that didn't have an enclosure for smaller dogs, and blood flows from time to time from dog fights and bites. These are a few of the negative realities that do happen. However
I've seen friendship and love develop between adults in off-leash parks. I've seen business deals come together while their dogs play together. I've even watched as the seeds of a screenplay were developed and pitched to an entertainment executive in the dog park and was produced! Best of all, the love of dogs bring people and dogs together.
Everyone enters an off-leash area at their own risk. It's a fun environment for everyone as long as everyone takes responsibility.