As Palo Alto prepares to open new dog parks in the coming year, the city is also unleashing new rules that dog owners will have to obey when using these facilities.
The new rules, which Parks and Recreation Commission considered at its last two meetings and approved on Dec. 19, will limit the number of dogs a person can take to a dog park to three. The goal of the new restriction is to keep commercial dog walkers from dominating the new structures – a problem that has been prompting a growing number of resident complaints, said Daren Anderson, manager of the Open Space, Parks and Golf Division at the Community Services Department.
The new restriction was proposed by a subcommittee that included several parks commissioners, staff and a few dog owners. The group, Anderson said, felt it was "not reasonable for someone to bring more than three dogs to the dog park and to be able to supervise those dogs."
"It just isn't possible to take six dogs and really be looking after them, and being sure you're picking up after them," Anderson told the commission at the Nov. 28 meeting, where the new rule was introduced.
The rules are being revised as part of the city's effort to open more dog parks in the coming year. The new parks master plan calls for up to six such facilities, and plans are already underway to open a dog park at Peers Park early this year. The Parks and Recreation Commission advanced that effort on Nov. 28, when it approved a park-improvement ordinance to enable the new off-leash area.
In addition, the city is hoping to expand and improve its three existing dog exercise areas at Mitchell, Greer and Hoover parks.
With the number of dog parks set to increase, parks staff felt the time was ripe to overhaul the rules, which it did with the help of the stakeholder group.
The new rules will also bring new hours to the dog parks. Currently, the facilities are officially open from sunrise to 10:30 p.m. Under the new rules, they will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Anderson told the parks commission that during the summer, sunrise can take place as early as 5:30 a.m., which some feel is too early to have dogs running around at the park.
Another new rule governs the separation of big and small dogs. The new Peers Park will have separate areas for dogs of different sizes and one issue that the group debated was the threshold for determining "small" dogs.
Initially, the commission considered limiting the small-dog area to those weighing 35 pounds or less. After further discussion and consultation with acting Animal Services Superintendent Cody Macartney, the group lowered it to 25 pounds. Anderson said the revision was based on the very large number of "toy dogs" in Palo Alto, some of which weigh considerably less than 25 pounds.
Another new rule would bar dogs with pronged collars from the exercise areas. Proposed by Commissioner Ryan McCauley, a dog owner who served on the rules subcommittee, the rule was added at the Dec. 19 meeting with the unanimous consent of his colleagues.
"I think some people who have their dogs in their pronged collars don't realize that when the dogs are playing with each other, another dog can be injured by the pronged collar," McCauley said at the meeting, explaining his proposal.
Other rules are largely consistent with what's been on the books for years – including requirements that owners pick up the dogs' waste and restrain aggressive behavior. As before, dogs will only be allowed off leash within the designated exercise areas. They must be licensed, vaccinated and wearing a collar with an ID and a license tag.
And dog owners "must remain in the fenced area and monitor and manage their dogs at all times." This includes keeping the dogs leashed until they are within the dog park and returning them to their leashes before exiting.
The new rules won plaudits from the commission, which adopted them without dissent, setting the stage for the City Council to do the same. Howard Hoffman, a dog owner who worked with staff to create the new rules, praised both the "inclusive" process for revamping the rules and the output.
"The improvement in the rules I think will be better for the people and the dogs of Palo Alto," Hoffman said.