Thursday, July 17, 2014

Puppies Unleashed

In case you missed it, there's been a debate going on recently in the Soulard neighborhood about dogs on leashes. It followed the recent announcement by Alderwoman Phyllis Young that the city's Leash Law will be enforced. This announcement came as a result of multiple complaints by neighbors of "dogs running off leash on public streets and within the City parks".

The debate as been quite animated on the neighborhood community website Next Door. Like all good debates, this one has two sides; those that support the law and those that want to see the dogs run free. The loudest of "Doggie Freedom" crowd appears to be members of a group of neighbors who had been gathering at Pontiac Square Park just south of Russell. They have been gathering to socialize after work and allow their dogs to run free. 

Pontiac Square Park is a public space and thus is covered under St. Louis City Ordinance 10.04.220, which reads as follows:

"No owner/guardian of any dog shall permit such dog to be found at large on the streets of the City or in any public place or on another person's private property, unless such dog is on a leash, not longer than six (6) feet in length and held by or under control of a responsible person so as to effectively prevent it from biting any person or animal. All dogs are prohibited from running or being at large unless under restraint as described above"

There are many laws and ordinances out there that I don't necessarily agree with. This is one that I think that it sucks that it has to exist, but it's needed. This ordinance is in place both to protect the humans of St. Louis and the furry residents.

Several of the dog owners letting their dogs go unleashed in Pontiac and voicing their opinions are stating that the owners congregating there are responsible dog owners and no one is being harmed by their actions. The dog owners who brought their dogs to Wentzville's Quail Ridge Park probably thought the same thing. Buddy's owner probably thought that too.  That is, until Buddy was attacked and killed by another dog in the park earlier this year.Nick Andres, Buddy's owner, had this to say while talking about how he wouldn't be going back to the unregulated dog park.

"You don't know every pet owner there, you don't know if their dog was abused. You don't what kind of temperament."
The owner of Zeus, the Great Dane that allegedly killed Buddy, said Zeus got spooked and started fighting with Buddy when another dog joined the fray. No matter what happened, Buddy's family will never see him again and Zeus was taken away from his family for an extended period of time.

See how easy that can happen? And that's only one of the bad things that could very easily happen while letting your dog run free. Pontiac Park is not completely fenced in. What if you dog runs off after something and runs into the street, getting hit by a car? What if you get hit by a car running after your dog? Who are you going to blame? What if your dog gets scared and bites someone? What if your dog gets attacked and you can't get there in time? Will you blame yourself like Tracy, who couldn't believe she was so naive and trusting?

This isn't a case of residents "having nothing better to do" as has been said more than once in this debate. There are plenty of dog owners in the neighborhood who support the leash law. Those dog owners and those without dogs supporting the leash law are looking out for their neighbors of the human and furry variety,  even if the "Doggie Freedom" crowd isn't. Yes, freedom-lovers, they are even looking out for your dog, even if you aren't.

Dogs do need their exercise and do deserve to run free from time to time. Unfortunately, most dwellings in Soulard don't have the luxury of a yard. A group of neighbors realized this years ago. Frenchtown Dog Park has existed on the northwest side of Soulard since 2004. The private park currently features a fenced-in portion encompassing 3/4 of an acre for dogs to run free in. Membership is $60 per year for one dog and $20 for each additional dog. Membership requires a photo of your dog, its vaccination paperwork and the your agreement to abide by a set of rules and regulations meant to protect dogs and owners.

Is Frenchtown Dog Park ideal for everyone? No, in a perfect would of rainbows and unicorns, all dogs and their owners would be the most well-behaved people in the world. Unfortunately, that isn't the case. Our neighbors recognized that a problem existed where people wanted to live in this area and wanted to own a dog, but didn't have the convenience and safety of having their own fenced in yard. This is the solution that was produced and is supported by a great deal of neighbors. Dog owners in Soulard have a dog park they can walk to and let their dog run free with more safeguards than in public parks like Pontiac. As an added bonus, they don't run the risk of being ticketed either.

For whatever reason, some people insist on allowing their dogs to run free. Many probably think they are doing their dog a favor. They aren't. They are putting themselves, their pets and their neighbors in danger. It's a lot like texting and driving. Texters know they are putting themselves and others in danger, but they are put their own needs and desires above that. Both acts aren't likely to cause death but definitely can. In the case of both acts, it's not worth chancing one if a possible outcome is death.

A healthy debate is always good and each side's opinions deserve respect. What comes next if these dog owners insist on letting their dogs have their freedom? The St. Louis Police Department has the authority to ticket those owners, but honestly, and this is coming from a supporter of the leash law, the city's police have better things to be doing than ticketing these people. We can only hope that these owners realize how selfish they are being and change their ways. Until then, lets all just hope and pray to the Island Gods that no neighbor of the human or pet variety gets hurt.