City rescinds ban on kids at dog parks

City rescinds ban on kids at dog parks

Michele Ellson

Photos by Michele Ellson.

City parks leaders have rescinded a rule barring children under the age of 9 from Alameda’s off-leash dog parks. Children of all ages are again being allowed again, and those under the age of 15 must be accompanied by an adult and supervised.

Alameda Recreation and Park Department Director Amy Wooldridge said the rule barring young children was put in place in response to complaints about children at Alameda’s dog parks. She said her department worked jointly with the police department’s animal control unit to come up with the new rule.

“It’s primarily a dog park, not primarily a children’s park,” Wooldridge said. She said it’s difficult for city staffers to manage problems at the dog parks.

The old rules, which are still posted at the Washington Park dog park, required children under the age of 18 to be supervised. The new rules tighten some of the previous provisions and allow the city to expel those who don’t comply, though children 16 and older may now come to the park without adult supervision.

Both sets of rules prohibit dog owners or handlers from bringing more than three dogs to the park, and they require owners to control and clean up after their dogs, and to remove then from the parks if they become aggressive.

Dog park rules varied at nearby cities, though none appeared to bar children of any age. Dog owners visiting Berkeley’s Ohlone Dog Park, for example, are required to control barking, and bicycles, skateboards and skates are expressly prohibited there, rules posted on the park's website say. Dogs who play in Piedmont’s off-leash park must have a special license to forgo their leash, while Oakland prohibits smoking and eating, spiked collars and puppies under four months of age at its dog parks.

Alameda has three off-leash dog parks. Washington Park has a 5.7 acre dog park split into areas for large and small dogs, and the city has a 1.3 acre dog park on Main Street across from Alameda Point.

A photo of a sign bearing the new rules posted on the Alameda Patch website prompted an outcry from residents who had differing views on whether children should be allowed.

Dog owners enjoying a warm, sunny midmorning visit to Washington Park’s two dog parks last week said they had no idea new rules had been put in place. But most of the owners interviewed by The Alamedan said they didn’t support barring small children.

Karen Manibusan said she comes to the small dog park twice a day with her poodle, Sadie, and she brings her two-and-a-half year-old grandson along on the days she takes care of him too.

Manibusan said she wouldn’t be able to come to the park on the days she’s caring for her grandson under the rules the city tried to impose, and that would be hard on Sadie, who is just four months old.

“She has to have that outlet,” Manibusan said of her dog as her grandson, J.J., ran around the park.

Rico Enriquez, who comes to Washington Park three to four times a week with his one-year-old pit bull mix, Harriet, said he could understand why the rule would be put in place. Enriquez, who also frequents Piedmont’s off-leash park, said children could be at risk when dogs roughhouse, and that he’s seen situations where owners have struggled to manage their dogs and children at the same time.

Jennifer Cohen said she’s been coming to the Washington Park dog park for a decade, and during those years, she’s seen it all. Cohen, who said young children should be allowed, said she remembers one non-dog owner who stopped by to enjoy a pizza and another family who sought to celebrate a child’s birthday with chocolate cupcakes at the park, though chocolate can be deadly for dogs.

“The dogs are fine,” Cohen said as her nine-and-a-half year-old dog, Eloise, frolicked with other dogs. “It’s the people.”