Council to spark discussion on possible dog park

Published 5:00 pm Saturday, April 30, 2011

Austin dog park proponents are getting another shot at proposing a park plan to the City Council.

Representatives of SPARK — Start a Park for Austin’s Respectable Canines — will be at a City Council work session Monday night to present their ideas and fundraising goals to council members.

SPARK representatives Megan Burroughs and Mike Schatz will speak to council members about the misconceptions of dog parks.

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“A lot of it is educating — what a dog park is, but most importantly what it’s not,” Burroughs said. “You have to have a licensed dog and have a rabies tag on it. If I see a dog without tags, I’m going to report it, and so will other people.”

Schatz said a dog park could cut down on people allowing their dogs to run unleashed in other areas of town where unleashed pets are prohibited.

“A dog park would be nice because dogs wouldn’t interfere as much with bikers, kids or people who are afraid of dogs,” Burroughs said.

Both Burroughs and Schatz own dogs and have visited several dog parks in other cities. Contrary to what some may think, dog parks are not overrun with dog poop and incessant barking, Burroughs and Schatz said.

“Dogs bark when they’re stuck in a yard or on a chain,” Schatz said. “A dog park is quieter than you would think.”

He added that if another dog owner leaves without cleaning up their dog’s poop, others in the park usually pitch in with clean-up. Sometimes the social pressure alone is enough to get someone to pick up after their pet, he said.

One of the main roadblocks on the road to a new park is cost. With the current budget uncertainty and city government trying to cut back in all areas possible, a dog park isn’t the top priority. But Mayor Tom Stiehm still supports the idea, especially because it would be useful for an estimated one-third of Austin residents who own dogs.

“A dog park reaches a whole different dynamic of people,” Stiehm said. “People that go to dog parks are adults and might not be using the park system otherwise, especially if they don’t have kids.”

“I think it would be money well spent,” he added.

Members of SPARK have already said they are willing to raise the money needed to build a fence. Burroughs said if all goes well, the group would like to have money left to start a dog park upkeep fund to save the City more money.

“We want to minimize, if not get rid of, the cost to the tax payers,” Schatz said.

SPARK’s goal is to raise $15,000 minimum, which likely would pay for the fence and leave a bit for upkeep.

“We’re not looking for the Taj Mahal of dog parks,” Burroughs said. “We just want a green area.”

Stiehm thinks the City should use land on the floodplain for the park.

“We’re buying up so much of this floodplain and turning it into parks or prairie grass,” he said. “If we could find an area that was in the floodplain and instead of turning it into prairie grass, turn it into a dog park. That would be a perfect fit.”

Although some residents are concerned about aggressive dogs and crime infiltrating the park, Police Chief Brian Krueger said most of his concerns have been eased.

“I was told that when dogs go to an area like a dog park that’s not their own turf, they all seem to get along,” Krueger said. “That was a concern of mine — thinking possibly some of these animals that are trained to protect things would attack other dogs. But I’ve been told that’s not really the case, because they’re not protecting their own turf (at a park).”

Krueger also addressed the fear of pitbulls, saying pitbulls fall under a negative stereotype that isn’t always true.

“I think there are people that own pitbulls that are good pets and aren’t trained for attacking purposes,” he said. “That’s hard to relay to everybody — that not all pitbulls are bad.”

Burroughs echoed Krueger’s words, saying there are misconceptions about pitbulls. She also mentioned that crime wouldn’t be any more a concern with the dog park than it is with regular parks.

“The people who bring their dogs to a dog park are taking care of their dogs,” she said. “There’s going to be some irresponsible people, but that’s the same with every public park.”

Mostly, Burroughs and Schatz — along with others involved with SPARK — simply want a place for their dogs to run and play while the owners can socialize and enjoy the park.

“It’s like parents bringing their kids to a playground,” Burroughs said.

SPARK representatives will be at the work session immediately following the regular 5:30 meeting at City Hall; the public is welcome at both meetings.

When: 5:30 p.m., Monday
Where: City Hall
What: SPARK dog park discussion will be in the work session following the regular meeting