City of Lodi’s Parks and Recreation Commission voted 3-1 Tuesday to recommend a variety of new dog park rules in an effort to curb incidents involving vicious dogs and keep pets and owners safe.
Commissioner Barbara Wardrobe-Fox dissented, citing a disagreement with a new rule prohibiting unsupervised young children from entering parks.
The recommendations come after the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, as well as Lodi police, received several calls in recent months regarding dog fights and owners unable to control their aggressive pets, as well as people bringing too many dogs to the parks.
According to city staff, Lodi has about 9.5 acres of park available for off-leash dog activities at Beckman Park, located at 1426 W. Century Blvd., Lawrence Park at 350 N. Washington St., and Vinewood Park at 1824 W. Tokay St. There are also two off-leash areas for dogs at Lodi Lake as well, staff said.
Aside from requirements that dog owners clean up after their pets and have proof of current rabies vaccines, Lodi Municipal Code does not set other rules for conduct in these parks, according to staff reports.
City staff used a 2002 report from the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis as a basis for creating their own recommended rules, which were presented last night. UC Davis published its recommendations after studying practices at 17 dog parks.
Rules the commission voted to recommend to the Lodi City Council include discouraging overly aggressive dogs from entering the park, as well as discouraging owners from bringing young puppies or fearful dogs to the park.
Staffers said younger or fearful animals can be easily scared by highly assertive or interactive dogs, and a quick snap or bite to defend themselves could create problems.
Owners should carry a leash with them at all times and have their animals under voice control as well, staff said.
Other rules included requiring children younger than 14 to be accompanied by an adult at all times, and owners will be limited to a maximum of two dogs in their charge at any given time.
Staff said the latter of these rules is a “charged issue,” as some dog owners bring as many as 15 animals with them at once.
Staff added that many who bring more than three dogs to the park are less conscientious about picking up after their pets or monitoring their interactions with other animals and people.
“I’ve heard many complaints from people, particularly at Beckman Park, from people who want to play with their kids and others are bringing five or more dogs that get out of control,” said Jeff Hood, Director of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services. “I do sympathize with people, and I believe that’s not a controllable number for people to bring in (to the parks).”
Commissioners agreed that five or more dogs is too much for one person to control.
“Maybe there are people out there who can control three dogs at a time,” Commissioner Rick Morgan said. “But it seems to me sometimes that two dogs can be quite a handful for some.”
Staff originally suggested limiting owners to bringing in no more than three dogs at one time, but Morgan suggested a two-dog limit, and commissioners agreed.
Officer Jennifer Bender, the City of Lodi’s Animal Services Supervisor, told the commission most altercations involving dogs occur when an owner or handler has more than three dogs in tow, and they encounter another person with a similar number of canines.
“It’s really too much, and that’s what gets reported to us,” she said. “This isn’t just about monitoring your dog. (The parks are) such a big place ... trying to control your dogs when one is in one place and the other is in another ... it’s just awfully big.”
Bender added that Animal Services will patrol every dog park to enforce these new rules. Those who bring more than two dogs to any park will be asked to leave. If an owner refuses to leave, or comes back a second time with more than two animals, they may be arrested, she said.
Bender said dog park patrons who see a violator should call animal services at 209-333-6741.
“If you see another dog being vicious, ask the owner to leave,” she said. “If they don’t leave, I would remove myself from the park and call us. We will come out and then ask that person to leave.”
Bender suggested the city post the Animal Services number on proper signage at the parks, as well as an after-hours number, as many dog owners use the parks well after Animal Services’ 4:30 p.m. closing.
Staff recommended posting these new rules in several visible locations and keeping signs well-maintained.
In addition, staff recommended enforcing the city’s leash laws in areas surrounding the dog parks to decrease the number of off-leash canines going to and from parks.
Wardrobe-Fox suggested children younger than 12 should be prohibited from entering the parks unsupervised, rather than staff’s suggestion of those younger than 14.
“I think the age should be younger than 12,” she said. “There are a number of 14-year-olds who can handle bigger dogs by themselves. And there are a number of 40-year-old who can’t handle a bigger dog like a Great Dane. I just don’t think 14 and younger is the right age to limit.”
Commissioner David Akin was absent from the meeting.