Recereation and Parks to consider leash ordinance

Goodale Park fills with dogs of many different breeds and sizes every afternoon as their owners socialize about the day’s events.

The 32-acre park is situated in the middle of Victorian Village, a densely populated neighborhood between downtown and the Ohio State campus. Neighbor Brian Shelley has been bringing his Golden Retreiver Kali here without a leash almost every day for the last 18 months.

Shelley says he and many other area residents bring their dogs to Goodale because of the lack of space in their urban neighborhood.

“A lot of dog owners live in houses, especially in German Village and the Victorian Village that have smaller back yards,” Shelley says. “This is the only place that you can bring your dog to have them run without a leash.”

Shelley says he encounters dozens of other dogs every day, and has never had a problem. But that’s not the case for Travis Hinkle. Hinkle runs kickball and volleyball leagues at Goodale three nights a week. As he sets up his temporary volleyball court, he’s thankful there are not any dogs around to steal his poles or net. He says sometimes animals steal or damage his equipment. And dogs have interrupted his games.

“People have dogs that run loose, and other people are doing other activities in the park, and they don’t want to have to deal with dogs interferring with their programs or anything else,” Hinkle says.

The conflict also exists at Schiller Park, a smaller park across downtown in German Village. Downtown resident Melissa Holderby walks her English Bull Mastiff Tilly through Schiller every afternoon. She jokes that Tilly sneezes at the proposed park ordinance.

Holderby says people should understand the rights of dogs and their owners, and try to exercise a little patience when dealing with them.

“I have a puppy, and she’s a year old,” Holderby says. “She’s chased a jogger before, and he stopped and jogged in place until I got a hold of her. He was really nice. If you don’t have the patience for that, maybe you should go to the bike path.”

But what if people don’t want to use the bike path? Melissa Speakman of German Village jogs through Schiller Park four to five days a week because she enjoys the scenery. She says she has never been chased or attacked by a dog, but she supports the proposed ordinance because of the risk aggressive dogs pose to small children.

“It’s just like when they run up on an animal,” Speakman says. “It scares the dog. They know their dog, but they just don’t know how their child will react around a small child, and a small child doesn’t know the difference.”

The Health Department reported 983 dog bites in Columbus last year. City officials have been talking about some kind of leash law for at least three years. Columbus City Council member Kevin Boyce says he proposed the idea in 2003 because of complaints he received about unruly dogs in parks. He says council’s Recreation and Parks committee then started working toward building parks specifically where owners can let their dogs run free.

“Once we went into the community to look at which parks those would be and how they would be desinged, that’s when we ran into a concrete wall basically, looking at what the right parks where because we wanted to have something where it was in close proximity no matter where you were in the city, so we wanted to have them all around the city” Boyce says.

Officials hope to build four or five dog parks around the city at a cost of a half-million dollars. The three- to five-acre facilities would be fenced in. The first park is already under construction near Big Walnut Park on the city’s east side. Some other possible locations include Schiller, Goodale, and Berliner parks. Department of Recreation and Parks assistant director Mark Young says the new parks will put Columbus’s pet policies ahead of most other cities across the country.

“Neighborhood (dog) parks will make Columbus really one of the most progressive cities in the country in terms of how we approach our policies that govern pet in parks,” Young says.

Penalties for violating the leash ordinance will range from warnings to park banishment to possible fines. The rule would not go into effect until all the regional dog parks are built, which Young estimates to be some time next year.