Every day, dog owners in Baltimore defiantly break city leash laws by allowing their pooches to frolic freely on streets and in parks.
But rather than continue to risk steep fines - up to $1,000 - members of Responsible Dog Owners Group (R-Dog) have been lobbying the city to create off-leash parks for their pets. City officials support the idea, providing the public approves and someone else bears the brunt of the cost.
Tomorrow night, to gauge public opinion, the Department of Recreation and Parks will hold a meeting at 6:30 p.m. at the South Baltimore Recreation Center, 106 E. Cross St.
"It's an ongoing problem in every neighborhood park," said Marvin F. Billups Jr., who heads the parks department. "You can go to just about any park on any day at any hour and find a dog off leash."
That's not surprising, considering that the city has an estimated 70,000 dogs, according to the city's Bureau of Animal Control, and their owners say they have nowhere to run them.
"People now have no option but to break the law," said Eric J. Kaidanow, a Fells Point lawyer who met his wife as she walked her cocker spaniel in a New York dog park - he was there walking his pit bull. "Most people would prefer not to, but what are they supposed to do when they live in small rowhouses? Dogs need exercise."
Off-leash dog parks, called dog runs, are common in urban areas across the country. Some include amenities such as benches and separate water fountains for humans and pets.
Dallas opened its first this month, as did East County near San Diego, following the examples of such cities as Miami, which has two, and New York City, which has 27. They are numerous in California, including a "special needs" dog park near Los Angeles, that caters to old, young or frail dogs.
R-Dog is interested in creating dog parks on swaths of Federal Hill Park and nearby Riverside Park, said Bonnie J. Crockett, vice president of R-Dog. But she said that she is not wed to situating the parks there and that the city is not limiting proposals to those sites.
Crockett, who owns Chance, a Basenji, called Federal Hill a "very doggie neighborhood."
"There is a lot of tension between dog owners and non-dog owners in the city," Crockett said. "This solves everyone's problem."
Dog runs would allow the animals to freely exercise, she said, while keeping them away from people who don't care to interact with them.
The Bureau of Animal Control and Department of Recreation and Parks support the concept. "For the health of the animal, it's a good thing," said Bob Anderson, head of Animal Control. "But if they're not on a leash going to and from the park, they belong to me."
Billups said the parks department would help maintain parks but does not have any funds set aside to build them. R-Dog would raise the money - an estimated $10,000 to $40,000 for two parks - for fences and gates around a park. The money would come from corporate sponsorships and private donations, Crockett said.
According to a proposal submitted to the city by R-Dog, canines would not be allowed in the park unless supervised, licensed and spayed or neutered. Owners would have to clean up after their charges and remove them if they fight with other dogs. Puppies younger than 4 months would not be allowed.
Similar rules apply in New York City, where the parks have been a success, said Jane Rudolph, spokeswoman for the New York City Parks Department.
"People love it here," Rudolph said. "Dogs can socialize with each other, and people can socialize with each other. It's a community, neighborhood thing."