Leash laws debated

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On Thursday, July 19, members of Columbus City Council held a special meeting – a “Doggie Dialogue” – in order to discuss the successes of Columbus dog parks, consider leash and pooper-scooper laws, and to hear feedback from Columbus residents concerning their four-legged friends.

Councilman Kevin Boyce began the meeting by explaining the history of the canine conversation.

“In 2003 we launched a discussion about dog incidences,” he remarked. “We are here tonight to see what steps we could take to increase safety for dog-owners and non-dog owners alike.”

In response to the number of safety concerns voiced over the past few years, the city created a dog park in October 2006 – Big Walnut Dog Park, located at 5000 East Livingston Avenue.

“I have heard nothing but positive feedback about the park,” Boyce related.

The council continued by explaining how its approach to future dog parks is now complicated by a number of questions, like whether already-existing parks should be separated into dog and non-dog areas, or whether time restrictions should be placed on when dogs can be in parks.

“We really do look at a number of potential opportunities,” Boyce added, “but we need to have options.”

Columbus is currently planning several dog parks throughout the city.  A basic dog park costs anywhere from $150,000 to $200,000 to build and maintain, and this year alone City Council has budgeted $375,000 toward the development of new parks.

Deputy Director Mark Young from the Recreation and Parks Department was the first speaker to comment on the past and future of Columbus dog parks.

“At the end of the day we want to ensure that all park users have the safest, healthiest and most enjoyable experience possible. Pets are welcome in virtually every park operating today,” he stated.

Calling Big Walnut Park “very successful”, Young related that on a typical weekday afternoon one can expect to find about fifteen dogs within the park’s perimeter. “It is well-used 365 days a year,” he said.

Young also announced that Big Creeks Park, a 1500-acre regional park, will be the site of a new four to five-acre dog park facility. Conceptual designs for the park – tentatively located at the intersection of Spangler Road and Watkins Road– will be discussed over the course of the next few weeks.

Here on the Westside, Big Run Park on Clime Road has been targeted as “a very good location” by the Recreation and Parks Department. Ideally the department hopes to develop a closed, three to four-acre park by the start of 2008.

“We want to accommodate people and their pets,” Young stated. “It’s important that they are a part of our park community.”

Next up was Dr. Aaron Messer, a public health veterinarian for the past five years, who was brought in to report on the safety concerns of dog parks and on dogs in general. Messer showed a graph that illustrated how the number of dog bites per year in

Columbus has remained rather stagnant over the past few years.

“In Columbus we have one-tenth of the national average of dog bites per capita,” Messer related.

One in 64 people in the United States are bitten by a dog every year, with boys under the age of ten making up the majority of the victims.

Messer’s employer, the Columbus Board of Health, investigates all animal bites, and receives at least one hundred complaints of vicious animals each year. He recommended neighborhood public education programs focused on bite-prevention strategies in order to protect those most likely to be bitten.

Columbus’s assistant city prosecutor, Bill Headrick, was the last city official to comment on the issue.

“Most of the dog owners using our parks are extremely responsible pet owners,” he began. “At the prosecutor’s office we have tried to be very aggressive with owners whose animals are menaces to others and to others’ pets.”

Headrick stated that owners have been incarcerated as punishment for their dog’s actions, and that last year 82 charges were filed against Columbus owners.  

When it comes to pooper-scooper laws, Headrick called Columbus “a rarity”.

“I challenge anyone to find a city of Columbus’s size that also does not have a pooper-scooper law on the books,” he remarked.  

As Headrick finished up his report, City Council opened up the floor to interested residents who could offer personal insight on the issue.

One resident commented that by permitting off-leash dogs, areas like Whetstone Park become safer, as residents are then motivated to use the park more, which in turn helps to deter illegal activities.

Other residents asked for leash laws to be enacted so that dogs are better cared for by their owners.

“I’m not sure that we’ve had any discussion go on for this long,” Boyce remarked as the last speaker took their seat. City Council plans on scheduling another “Doggie Dialogue” in the near future, and all interested residents are encouraged to bring forward their comments and suggestions.

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