Dog park safety is reviewed

Law could restrict small dogs to stay in their own area

July 28, 2006|By ALIA MALIK | ALIA MALIK,SUN REPORTER

The sign on the dog park's fence reads, "Large dog area," above a picture of what looks like a golden retriever. The dog on the "small dog area" sign at Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis could be a terrier with stumpy little legs.

The small dog can frolic in the more spacious large dog area - but takes the chance of becoming a chew toy.

Because of this possibility, the Anne Arundel County Department of Recreation and Parks is considering requiring small dogs to stick to their own enclosure.

"You don't want the government to be too intrusive in things like this, but if it's an issue of safety, something has to be done," said John Marshall, head of park operations.

He began mulling over the idea after a large dog attacked a Jack Russell terrier at Broadneck Park two years ago, shaking the smaller dog until the terrier's jaw was broken and had to be wired back together. Since then, he's noted an increase in reports of large dog-on-small dog violence nationwide.

Marshall's department has invited the public to comment on the issue on its Web site, www.aacounty.org/RecParks, until Aug. 31, and will then decide how to proceed, Marshall said.

"If it turns out there isn't a problem and it's just an issue of people using common sense, we're not going to change anything," he said.

Since June 23, the department has received nearly 90 responses.

Anne Arundel County's first dog park opened at Quiet Waters in 2001, and attendance and revenue rose 20 percent over the next year, Marshall said. Since then, three bigger dog parks have opened at Broadneck Park, Maryland City Park and Bell Branch Park in Davidsonville. (Quiet Waters and Downs Park in Pasadena also have dog beaches.)

On the rare occasion that an aggressive dog's owner refuses to leave or curb his pet's behavior, park users can call Marshall with that owner's license tag, and the offending owner can be put on probation or banned from the park. Since Quiet Waters opened in 2001, only four people have been banned, Marshall said.

Some small-dog owners advocate the proposed size restriction for safety reasons. Donna Stackhouse of Annapolis said she refuses to let her 12-pound miniature schnauzer, Benji, in the large dog area.

"The big dogs need to be separated from the small dogs," she said. "Size is an issue, but temperament is the prime factor."

Other dog owners wondered how to define a small dog versus a large one.

Mert Ozcoskun of Annapolis said he didn't know which enclosure would be appropriate for his 40-pound boxer puppy.

"He would go to both of them," Ozcoskun said of his dog, Enzo. "He doesn't care. He just wants to play."

A size restriction wouldn't have been much help for Mary Bredbenner's 70-pound golden retriever when the dog was bitten by a Rottweiler at Quiet Waters' dog park six months ago.

"I don't think it's about size," said Angela Walton of Annapolis, who also owns a 70-pound mutt. "I think it's about the personality or socialization of the dog."

Most of the responses the Department of Recreation and Parks has received so far take a similar viewpoint, Marshall said.

"Most of them say, `If people would just use common sense, it would not be an issue,'" Marshall said. "It's just like your children. You're going to know whether your children are going to mix and work well with people. It's the same thing with dogs."

alia.malik@baltsun.com

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