Library field’s gone to the dogs
July 25, 2008
It is early evening on a recent weekday and the giant field outside the Park City Library and Education Center is buzzing.
A team of rugby players is practicing its drills in one section of the green space, a rare piece of level land in Old Town, and two men play catch with a baseball in another section of the field.
Elsewhere about a dozen dogs, a variety of breeds, sizes and ages, frolic with their owners on the field. Some of the dogs are fetching tennis balls, others are running after Frisbees and still others are wrestling with each other, growling as they try to gain the upper paw.
It is a typical scene at the field, which has become, in essence, an illicit dog park, a place where people openly ignore leash laws as they enjoy the time with their pets.
The police and officers from Summit County Animal Control do not harass the owners and their dogs, even though a leash law is in effect throughout Summit County. The law requires dogs be leashed when they are in a public place, meaning they should be on a leash when they are outside the library or on public property elsewhere, including trails.
The authorities are aware the dog owners often bring their pets to the library field to let them run off leash, but they have thus far allowed the practice.
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"If I can come here everyday, I come everyday. All the dogs that come here are the same dogs," says Andy Michelich, who lives in Old Town and brings Fred, his 16-month-old chocolate Labrador, to the field about three times each week to play Frisbee. "It’s an ideal spot for dogs."
The dog owners gather outside the library during a summer when leash laws have, unexpectedly, become a crucible issue. A Park City man, Bob Berube, has twice sprayed unleashed dogs with pepper spray after, he says, they made unwelcome advances. The two encounters spurred outrage from some dog owners, but other Parkites have said they are on Berube’s side.
Meanwhile. City Hall is preparing to open a dog park at Quinn’s Junction, the first such facility in the city limits. There, dogs will be allowed to be off leashes. Once the Quinn’s Junction park opens, though, it is expected some of the dog owners will continue to frequent the field outside the library. It’s more convenient to many Parkites, and some have made visits there a habit.
Michelich says he will take his dog, Fred, to the dog park once it opens, but he says he will continue to bring the pet to the library field as well. The dogs at the library field understand the perimeter, he says, and there is plenty of parking spots steps from the grass.
"He likes it so much. If he likes it, I’ll do it for him," Michelich says.
City Hall officials once studied whether they should place a dog park on the library field instead of at Quinn’s Junction or other locations. In early 2007, though, the officials determined the field is too close to neighbors and it should be reserved for less intense uses. Quinn’s Junction was chosen after a contentious search for a site that would not upset neighbors.
Liza Simpson, a Park City Councilor who served on City Hall’s Recreation Advisory Board before winning elected office in 2007, says dog owners and their pets have congregated on the library field at least since the early 1990s. She is not surprised it remains popular.
"It’s right in town. It’s convenient. It’s close," Simpson says, calling the dog owners a self-policing group because, she says, they clean up after their dogs and keep them from harassing kids who also visit the field frequently.
She says the field is the right size for the dog owners and it’s removed from traffic. Simpson says she is unaware of others worrying about the loose dogs.
"It’s a very live-and-let-live town. As far as I know there haven’t been any complaints," Simpson says.
The Park City Police Department, which regularly handles complaints of people violating leash laws, has not been called to the library field, according to Capt. Phil Kirk’s understanding. However, Summit County Animal Control officers have received reports of off leash dogs outside the library, says Bob Bates, the Animal Control director.
Bates says his officers patrol Old Town daily, and they concentrate on areas where complaints are lodged. The Animal Control officers usually provide complimentary leashes and warn people before they write someone a ticket, he says.
"It’s just an ongoing situation," Bates says. "If people think they can get away with it, they try it."
Jennifer Gardner, another regular at the field outside the library, brings a Frisbee and a water bowl when she brings her 3-year old standard poodle, Jackson. Gardner, who splits her time between Park Meadows and Berkeley, Calif., says she will bring her pet to the dog park once it opens. The park, which will be fenced, will be safer than the library field, she says.
Gardner spends between 30 minutes and an hour at the field every few days. She brings a leash with her, and she puts Jackson on it when walking. The dogs in the field outside the library are a well-behaved group, she says, adding that the dogs have become buddies.
"The dogs all know each other. They see each other time after time," she says, adding, "When dogs are off leash, it’s all about play. There’s no barking, no biting."