Draconian Dog Laws No More

Leashed dogs can have their day in Oakland parks—finally.


Leashed dogs are now legal in Oakland parks, including the perimeter of Lake Merritt.


For the first time in memory, those No Dogs signs will be coming down in Oakland parks. Some of them, anyway, thanks to a proposed city-ordinance change due for its final reading before the City Council on April 1.

Nobody seems to know for sure where Oakland’s ban on dogs in city parks originated; neighboring towns have no such restrictions. With only five small, fenced, designated dog play areas in the city, and an ultimately failed, acrimonious effort since 1998 to establish a similar facility at Lake Merritt, the 40 percent of Oakland residents who share their homes with dogs have had few options. Those fortunate enough to have cars largely gave up and drove to Alameda (whose dog park could comfortably contain most of Oakland’s), Point Isabel, or another one of the East Bay Regional Park District’s parks. In some Oakland neighborhoods, residents with and without dogs have harmoniously shared their parks for decades, sometimes going so far as to remove the city’s No Dogs signs, Bolinas-style; in others, there’s conflict. Walking your dog on leash around Lake Merritt—illegal. Walking your dog along the Rockridge-Temescal Greenbelt? Against the law.

In the wake of the Lake Merritt debacle, park officials and stakeholders realized that a number of things were fundamentally broken: the laborious, one-off process for creating a designated dog park as various groups squabbled over scarce park resources, but more seriously, the city’s draconian prohibition of dogs, leashed or otherwise, in the parks, which stood in sharp contrast to policies in neighboring cities (e.g., San Francisco, Alameda, Berkeley, and Walnut Creek).

Explains Barry Miller, chairman of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission, “It became apparent to many of us on the commission that one of the root causes of this controversy was the city’s antiquated policy of prohibiting leashed dogs in almost all its parks.”

So, with a view to creating a strategic rather than reactive approach to the issue, starting in September 2012, Office of Parks and Recreation director Audree Jones-Taylor and PRAC joined in community outreach, with focus groups, public hearings, and email surveys. Meanwhile, says PRAC’s Miller, they also visited neighboring cities, studying best practices and potential issues.

Different neighborhoods had divergent views. Some, Miller notes, were quite vocal in wanting no dogs in their parks. In others, dogs had been playing in the parks for years with no issues. Some people, notes Parks and Rec’s Dana Riley, didn’t have a problem with dogs, just a problem with fencing off portions of the park. “We also began to hear that allowing dogs on-leash in more park areas would go a long way to reduce the stresses of owning a dog in a city.”
Emerging from this prolonged process of consensus building, a proposed ordinance change gives the city’s dog-owning households more options for recreation and exercise closer to home. Besides the existing five fenced dog parks, several unfenced areas long used as de facto dog play areas are legally designated as such. Perhaps most significantly, leashed dogs and their people are now welcome at designated parks all over the city.

“We know that whether dogs are legal or not, in many Oakland parks they successfully integrate with other users,” says Emily Rosenberg, co-founder of ODOG, the Oakland Dog Owners Group. ODOG is a body that advocates responsible dog ownership in Oakland and led efforts for a dog park at Lake Merritt. “We are pleased that the city is moving toward a modern practice of welcoming people in the parks when they have their dogs with them. The policy changes will first be implemented in this short list of parks where dog owners are already integrated with other users, or where there is little regular use of the park.”
If successful, this pilot program will lead to more park access, particularly on-leash. “Oakland should be doing more,” says Miller. “This is a first step, not the last.” Says Jones-Taylor, “OPR recognizes the need to meet the needs of all our individuals and those that we serve. We have learned through this two-year-and-more process that our dog owners are 40 percent of the population, but we only have five dedicated parks. We are certainly looking at ways to enhance and improve the experience of all our residents and users. To that end OPR comes with a proposal to get paws on the ground at selected parks citywide.”

Dogs Welcome Here
Fenced, off-leash dog play areas (existing): Grove-Shafter Park, Hardy Park, Mosswood Park, Jefferson Square Park, Joaquin Miller Park.
Unfenced off-leash dog play areas: Park Boulevard Plaza, Estuary Park, Oak Glen Park, South Prescott Park, Glen Daniel/King Estates.
Parks allowing leashed dogs: Hardy Park, Rockridge-Temescal Greenbelt, Grove-Shafter Park, Athol Plaza, Mandana Plaza, Pine Knoll Park, Eastshore Park, Lakeside Park, Jefferson Square Park, Mosswood Park, Snow Park, Dimond Park, Joaquin Miller Park, Montclair Railroad Trail, Union Point Park, Leona Park, Knowland Park.

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