Balto. Co. park is 'dog heaven' Canine walkers improve area, but others complain about untethered pets

December 21, 1997|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,SUN STAFF

Has Robert E. Lee Park gone to the dogs?

Apparently so, for nary a day goes by that the city-owned park isn't visited by a parade of dogs and their owners out for a jaunt along the trails that wind around the park's central landmark, Lake Roland.

"This is dog heaven, is what it is," Hank Likes, a Woodlawn resident, said yesterday. Several times a week, he drives to the park, north of the city in a bucolic nook between Falls Road and Lake Avenue.

"It's a safe, relaxing place for dogs and people. You can see almost every breed of dog there is here. It's the dog owners who are really taking care of this park," said Likes, who brought his three Australian shepherd dogs.

During the past year, a loosely knit group called the Lake Roland Dog Walkers Association has worked to make the park safe and hospitable for dog walkers -- and those without canine companions.

Recently, the group posted wooden boxes loaded with plastic bags for dog owners to use to clean up after their dogs.

The group has posted signs advising dog owners of the light rail line cutting through the north end of the park. Several dogs that strayed have been killed by trains, signs warn.

Jay Hoge, a Mount Washington resident who visits the park several times a week with his two greyhounds, said dog walkers cherish the park's tranquillity and beauty.

"This is a really pretty place to enjoy," said Hoge, looking out over the ice glazed lake. In the distance, walkers could hear the distinctive sound of a pileated woodpecker hammering away and watch a blue heron float to a reedy spot. Huge oaks and beech trees rim the lake.

"There is a great social aspect to coming here," said Hoge. "I now know a lot of the dog owners who come here. We enjoy talking about the dogs and letting them get in some of their own socializing."

Which is exactly why Jeffrey and Rebeccah Merrenblum of Mount Washington visit the park daily with their three children and recent family addition, Pugsly.

The hound's name is apt because she is a breed known as a pug, a sort of miniature, affable version of the bulldog.

Merrenblum says she enjoys coming to the park to pick up tips on dog training, care and habits from seasoned owners.

The hours after daybreak are perhaps the busiest for dog walking in the park, said Hoge. A restless herd arrives from a night indoors. Exquisite blood lines from Rhodesian Ridgebacks to lowly rat-tailed mutts gallivant across the park long before the sun has crested the tree line.

Some hardy breeds -- Labradors and retrievers mostly -- eagerly swim in the lake, long ago a source of city drinking water.

Even the glassy ice floating on the surface from a winter night's chill does not deter some hounds, such as Mookie, part border collie, who emerged from a swim for a round of Frisbee with her owner, Sol Levin.

"It's a great park for dogs and dog lovers. There's lots of space for the dogs to run around," said Levin.

This raises a sticky issue that crops up periodically between dog walkers and those who enjoy the park for other pastimes, such as bird-watching or picnics: the widespread noncompliance among dog walkers with one of the posted regulations in the park, keeping one's hound leashed. The city does not station an employee in the park to monitor compliance.

But Likes said complaints are rare, and dog walker association members try to police the park to offer gentle reminders to visitors.

Aaron H. Seiden, a Pikesville resident who does not own a dog but visits the park periodically for a brisk walk, says he doesn't mind untethered dogs so much, but wishes there were a better effort to police dog owners who do not clean up.

Likes, the Woodlawn resident, said that despite the laziness of some dog owners, Robert E. Lee Park is a better place to visit than before dog walkers began frequenting it.

"Ten years ago, this was a ghost park," Likes said. "There were lots of problems with drug users and flashers in here. But the dogs keep that kind of element out of here."

Pub Date: 12/21/97

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