If you love your parks, you’ll leash your dog

Originally published August 11, 2005 in the Seattle Times

Forgive the pet metaphor, but the people of Seattle have got to stop pussyfooting around about dogs. Seattle boasts some of the nation’s…

By Ann Hedreen

Forgive the pet metaphor, but the people of Seattle have got to stop pussyfooting around about dogs.

Seattle boasts some of the nation’s most progressive dog-ownership laws. We have a leash law that allows owners to take their dogs just about anywhere. We have nine off-leash areas where owners can run their dogs freely, and we’re about to have two more. We have a successful scoop-it campaign that makes our streets far more foot-friendly than many cities (been to Paris lately?).

Seattle also is endowed with some of the nation’s most beautiful parks, including half a dozen pockets of true urban wilderness, giving dog owners an endless supply of beautiful places to exercise themselves and their pets.

But something’s happening here that could upset the whole idyllic picture. Our parks and the people who visit them are at risk because of a growing minority of dog owners who are choosing to break the leash law.

Over the 15 years I’ve been running and walking in Seward Park, I have seen more and more dog owners choose to run their dogs off the leash. They know our animal-control agency is woefully understaffed and it’s highly unlikely they’ll ever get a $54 ticket. They know that there is an off-leash dog area a half-mile away at Genesee Park.

What they may not know is that their dogs are trampling native plants, allowing invasive ivy to take over the forest floor and slowly choke some of Seattle’s oldest trees. They may not know that the city, with the help of several small volunteer organizations like the Friends of Seward Park, spends more and more time and money every year trying to save the parks from their carelessness.

They may also not know that no matter how well-behaved their dog is and no matter what breed, their dog can terrify people who don’t know from a hundred yards away how friendly and harmless it is. And their dog, even if it has never misbehaved before, can bite someone, and when it happens, it happens in the blink of an eye.

The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that nationwide, 4.7 million people a year are bitten by dogs. Eight hundred thousand require medical attention. Injury rates are highest among children ages 5-9. The younger the child, the more likely they are to be bitten on the head, face or neck.

The Seattle Animal Shelter’s executive director, Don Jordan, says that our city averages about 300 reported dog bites per year and one to two reports of aggressive or menacing dogs per day, but that many bites and incidents go unreported.

On the list of breeds that account for most of the reported dog bites in Seattle are some that you would expect, such as pit bulls, and others you might not: Labs, retrievers and spaniels.

“This isn’t a dog problem, this is a people problem,” Jordan told me. “Dog owners need to behave themselves. Having a dog off-leash is not an entitlement.”

Dave Patterson, head of the Division of Rehabilitation Psychology at the University of Washington School of Medicine and Harborview Medical Center, concurs, noting that, especially for children, the trauma of a severe dog bite carries with it a greater risk of long-term post-traumatic-stress disorder than most other kinds of trauma.

“There’s a primal brain response to the notion of being attacked,” Patterson explained. “These attacks can create phobias in children that may last for the rest of their lives.”

It’s time to protect our children and our parks. We need posters, yard signs, bumper stickers and T-shirts that bear a simple message: I LOVE OUR PARKS. I LEASH MY DOG.

We need Seattle’s many conservation groups — the Mountaineers, the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation — to get behind an education campaign.

And if education campaigns, generous leash laws and off-leash areas don’t work, then maybe it’s time to create “off-dog” areas where people can play, picnic, walk and run freely, without fear. At the same time, we can give old-growth trees and open meadows freedom from dog abuse.

Three decades ago, Seattle set an example for the nation when it embraced recycling. We can do this, too. We can be a city that is dog-friendly and park-friendly.

Ann Hedreen is a filmmaker and writer who lives in Seattle.

Ann Hedreen

UNCOLA history

UNCOLA Consortium

(United Neighbors Concerning Off-Leash Areas)

P.O. Box ___

Seattle, WA  98124

Off-Leash Proposal Development: Background & Chronology –

The Problem:  1995 and prior —  Seattle park users experience increasing problems with blatant disregard of animal control laws in Seattle’s parks —  off-leash dogs bite children in play-pools, off-leash dogs intimidate children in play areas.   Activities of runners, walkers, picnickers, kite-flyers, child and adult athletic groups etc. are increasingly interrupted by out-of-control off-leash dogs.  Seniors are knocked down by happy out-of-control dogs.  Dog poop is often encountered in children’s play areas, picnic areas, beaches, etc.  Wildlife and wildlife habitat is disrupted and degraded by intensive off-leash dog use.

Seattle had only about 25,500 licensed dogs (17,000 licensing households, 7% of total households).  A majority of Seattle’s dog population was estimated to be unlicensed and may be unvaccinated and not treated regularly for the many common diseases transmitted dog to dog and dog to human.  Seattle’s Animal Control Division runs consistent deficits because so few dog-owners license their dogs.

Initial solution: City Council agrees to add 2 animal control officers dedicated to patrolling parks, but does not allocate funds for their salaries.  City council expects increased numbers of fines for animal control violations to cover the 2 new animal control officers’ salaries.  Parking ticket fines cover a significant portion of parking officers’ salaries, so this was a reasonable expectation.

Some dog-owners cited for animal control law violations become angry and telephone city hall repeatedly.  Animal control officers encounter increasing resistance while issuing citations for animal control law violations.  Police backup is required more and more often.

Subsequent solution proposed by Councilmember Jan Drago.  Dedicate parts of Seattle’s park system to off-leash dogs. Off-leash proponents cite San Francisco, California as a successful example of solving the above-cited problems by dedicating parts of an urban park system to unleashed dogs.  According to off-leash proponents, in San Francisco:

  • Unleashed dogs and owners stay in dedicated areas and pick up poop
  • Other park users need worry no longer about constant interruptions by off-leash dogs.
  • Parks no longer have a poop problem
  • Wildlife and wildlife habitat are no longer damaged by intensive off-leash dog use
  • A much higher percentage of dogs are licensed and appropriately vaccinated and treated for common diseases.
  • Compliance with the leash law and animal control laws improves throughout the city and especially in parks.

On page 3, see summary of actual conditions in San Francisco developed from written Declaration provided by a representative of San Francisco’s park department.

October, 1994 through March, 1995

Dog-owners angry about increased enforcement of animal control laws identify 70 very large sites (primarily in parks and natural areas) they desire for designated  ‘off-leash’ areas. Councilmember Jan Drago assembles a ‘city-wide task force’ to evaluate and narrow down  these sites.  The task force is not allowed to suggest alternatives, or suggested alternatives are ignored.  Many of the task forces’ recommendations are ignored when they conflict with the dog owners’ stated desires and objectives.

May, 1995

Councilmember Jan Drago and an eight-month old group, Citizens for Off-Leash Areas, (COLA) held six public workshops to propose 38 off-leash dog exercise areas in Seattle parks. These proposals were developed by COLA without input from park stakeholders and Seattle neighborhoods affected by the proposals.  Many people referred to these  ‘workshops’ as ‘infomercials’ for dog runs in parks.The workshops were poorly and misleadingly advertised.  Most neighborhoods and park stakeholders were completely unaware of the magnitude of the proposals.

The workshops were conducted by COLA.  COLA was allowed to gather signatures during the
workshops.  Pros and cons of the issue were not presented.  No experts or expert agencies presented information.  Comments on the proposals were not allowed.  Correction of misinformation was not allowed.  Suggesting alternatives was not allowed except through written comment submitted after the workshop.

Many individuals, community groups, athletic groups, park advocacy groups, park stakeholders write City Council objecting to the proposals and the process used to develop the proposals.

June, 1995

Public Hearing on proposed 38 off-leash areas in parks was held in Seattle Center. Objections to process and proposals continue.  UNCOLA  (United Neighbors Concerning Off-Leash Areas) calls for a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to be prepared before implementing such a massive change in Seattle’s park system.  A full EIS would give all impacted park stakeholders and neighborhoods an opportunity to participate in the proposal development process.  UNCOLA questions whether these proposals will really solve the problem, and whether these proposals are really good for the dogs.

July, 1995

In response to massive public objections, the original plan for 38 permanent off-leash sites was scaled back to 7 one-year trial sites — 6 in parks and 1 on DOT land.  Councilmember Jan Drago’s office agreed to prepare an environmental checklist covering this proposal, but was unwilling to prepare a full EIS.  The Office of Management and Planning was agency responsible for making the threshold determination.  Councilmember Jan Drago’s staff is primarily responsible for preparing the environmental checklist.

October, 1995

Office of Management and Planning (OMP) issues a Determination of Non-Significance (DNS).  OMP evaluated only impacts in the 7 proposed sites during the one-year trial period and did not consider long term impacts occurring after the one-year trial.  OMP does not consider impacts of such a massive policy change on Seattle’s entire park system.  DNS assumes closure of off-leash sites at the end of the one-year trial. Monitoring and Evaluation of the Trials is proposed but no plan or criteria for determining success or failure is presented.

October, 1995

Amid rising concerns that important and significant environmental impacts of proposed off-leash areas were ignored, three groups – UNCOLA, Friends of Seattle’s Olmstead Parks, Mt. Baker-Lakewood Youth Soccer Club —  Appealed the DNS.

November 14, 1995

Business and Labor Committee Public Hearing on Off-Leash Proposals. Off-leash proponents make it clear that the 7 trial sites are only Phase I of a plan for off-leash sites in many parks throughout Seattle.   Many state they do not intend to obey the leash law until dog-owners have off-leash sites in every Seattle neighborhood. Proponents complain the proposed 7 trial sites are much too small and should be enlarged. Proponents do not want fences around the off-leash areas.  Proponents admit the 7 trial sites will be devastated by intensive dog-use.

November 27, 1995

Pre-Conference Hearing with Seattle’s Hearing Examiner.  OMP requested the Hearing Examiner to consider only evidence related to the 7 trial sites and the 12-month trial program.   Even though the trials will be made permanent and are phase 1 of a plan for unleashed dog areas in many parks all over Seattle, the Hearing Examiner will not consider long term impacts on Seattle’s parks, park users, neighborhoods and entire park system.

December 12, 1995

Park Board Hearing on Off-Leash Proposals.  Park Board announces that they have been directed to consider only how to manage and design the 7 proposed sites. They are not to consider whether or not these areas should exist in parks. Their input regarding advisability of implementing such a program is not requested, and in fact discouraged.  Even though the Park Board’s responsibilities include stewardship of Seattle’s parks for ALL Seattle citizens and advising the Mayor and City Council about appropriate park  policies, activities and stewardship, efforts were made to limit their role in evaluating off-leash proposals and off-leash areas’ suitability for urban parks.

January 22, 1996

At the Appeal Hearing, which lasted 5 days, UNCOLA, Friends of Seattle’s Olmstead Parks and Mt. Baker-Lakewood Youth Soccer Club presented important information which raises significant issues and questions that all citizens who care about the future of ALL Seattle’s parks should consider.

UNCOLA submitted a written Declaration from the Assistant Superintendent of San Francisco, CA’s Park Department that clearly shows:  Dedicating parts of urban parks to unleashed dog use does not solve the original problem Seattle citizens and  park users were experiencing.  In San Francisco:

  • Many dog-owners ignore designated off-leash areas and chose to use an entire park for off-leash activity.
  • About 10% to 12 % of San Francisco’s dogs are licensed.  Seattle has the same percent with no off-leash areas.  Establishing off-leash areas in parks does not increase the number of licensed dogs.
  • Establishing off-leash areas in parks has not improved compliance with animal control laws.
  • Other park users experience serious and frequent disruptions of their activities by off-leash dogs outside designated areas
  • The entire park system has a serious ‘poop’ problem — inside and outside off-leash areas.
  • Most of San Francisco’s Parks are used by San Francisco’s dog population (licensed and unlicensed) for off-leash activity

February, 1996

Seattle’s Park Board votes to oppose proposal for 7 ‘trial’ sites in Seattle Parks.

Throughout this entire process, Seattle City Council and the Mayor have not asked and discussed, or gathered and analyzed information relating to, the following questions:

“Can Seattle’s urban parklands withstand the intensive use of the dense urban dog population without accelerating degradation of those parklands?” “Are unleashed dog areas an appropriate and legitimate use of urban park lands given all the functions we expect those parklands to serve and potential conflicts with other currently-authorized park uses?”

“What are Seattle’s responsibilities to other park users whose person and property are at increased risk of aggravation, injury or damage by loose dogs?”

“Why reward people for creating problems through blatant disregard of animal control laws which protect public health and safety as well as pet health and safety?”

“Does Seattle really want to start down the same path that San Francisco has found so problematic???”

“Are there better alternatives?”

February, 1996

Seattle Hearing Examiner upholds OMP’s DNS for 7 Trial Dogs-Off-Leash sites, because the proposal is a 12-month trial which will be carefully managed and monitored, and because the proposal has a clear beginning and ending.  This, despite City officials’ testimony that:

  • The City intends to keep the trial sites open after the 12-month trial period because it wants to continue offering the ‘service’ with no interruptions
  • Management and Monitoring Standards were not yet written, were in the process of being developed.  Funding has not yet been allocated for these activities.

What’s wrong with this picture???


The 7 Dogs-Off-leash trial sites show significant damage to scarce park-land.  Other park users are no longer comfortable using these areas and leave.  Compliance with Animal Control Laws (including obtaining a dog license) does not increase significantly.  Parks with designated dogs- off-leash sites experience continued and, in most cases, increased problems with illegal off-leash activity OUTSIDE designated off-leash areas.COLA pledged to raise significant $s  and volunteer time to cover all costs of off-leash program, including stewardship of land damaged by off-leash activity.    COLAs Spring, 1998 fund-raiser collected  a little over $1,000, a very small percentage of the total operating costs of the off-leash program.  Total donations to the special city fund for dog-runs were only $2,000 as of 7/16/97.

Contrast this fund-raising effort with other community groups park improvement efforts:

Community Members all over Seattle are raising $100,000s of dollars, spending 1,000s of hours rehabilitating  parks as small as 1 acre for all members of the community to use and enjoy.

1997 and 1998

Only 4 permanent dog-run sites are established, 3 in parks and one on non-park land, because of:

  • Continuing neighborhood and park-user opposition
  • COLAs unwillingness or inability to live up to stewardship, fundraising and compliance agreements
  • Obvious, significant, damage to parks.

COLA members continue to pressure Seattle Parks Department to assume responsibility for site stewardship & improvements that COLA had originally promised to make.


comments on the birth of this site

Thank you for doing this.  Another area parks keeps dogs off of is golf courses.  I like the idea of off leash areas being switched to golf courses because they have a staff and patrons that will help enforce off lease rules.  I agree a no tolerance of off lease dogs, outside of their parks, is the only way to start to curb the aggressive behavior of dog owners.  Dog park fees could help pay for enforcement outside of their parks although fines would help do this as well.


I see dogs as a public health and safety issue. Seattle employees would never answer my question “when is it safe for children to contact with lawns heavily used as dogs’ toilets”.  I also see this as a soil and water contamination issue that the utility district of Snohomish county acknowledged early in my involvement with a stream side land owners project- I still keep their outreach mailer to Snohomish county residents.

As Parks management has been negligent in their enforcement of off leash regs, I believe Seattle public utilities has been negligent protecting our public resources from contamination.  Instead of joining forces to combat the problems of contamination and safe public access, they choose to bury their collective heads in the polluted sand.


I would say it is too much information for the internet.  I would simplify it and just say that, “Seattle Parks and Recreation, Animal Control adopt a zero tolerance policy in Seattle Parks. If they can prohibit smoking in the parks why not dogs.”

“There was an implicit contract between dog owners and the City in 1995, that if dog owners were given off-leash areas, that dogs would not run off-leash in the parks.”


Unleashed dogs damage wildlife

What kind of damage can unleashed dogs do to wildlife and habitat?

 Off-leash dogs seriously compromise the health of parks and natural areas. Portland Parks & Recreation’s designated off-leash areas are thoughtfully sited to avoid environmental impacts.

Allowing even a single dog off-leash can disturb wildlife, and impact the habitat Portland Parks & Recreation works so hard to protect.

  • Off-leash dogs disturb nesting areas and damage sensitive wildlife habitat
  • Ground-nesting birds are particularly vulnerable to off-leash dogs
  • Dogs urinating in nesting and sensitive wildlife habitats “marks” the territory, which makes it undesirable or uninhabitable to the wildlife living there
  • Dog fur/paws pick up seeds, which can spread invasive plant species
  • Unleashed dogs can chase and injure (or even kill) squirrels, ducks and other wildlife
  • https://www.portlandoregon.gov/parks/article/91738

The Effect of Dogs On Wildlife

The Effect of Dogs On Wildlife

Many people enjoy hiking with their dogs in natural areas, since dogs derive a lot of pleasure from sampling all the scents in such areas, as well as getting some great exercise. Some dog owners delight in seeing their dogs roam free off the leash, since the dogs get even more fun from that.

However, due to the disturbance to wildlife caused by dogs, many parks and preserves have banned them. This page lists some of the reasons behind that ban:

Direct Predation. Even though my experience is that dogs are rarely successful in catching the many birds and squirrels they chase, dogs occasionally directly kill wildlife, or injure the wildlife enough to cause their subsequent death.

Dogs roaming off trail can trample vegetation, and if dogs are numerous they can remove the vegetation in popular areas by trampling, scratching and digging. Trampling is the major effect of hikers and their pets to plants.

Indirect Predation. Even when dogs are unsuccessful in catching the object of their chase, the potential prey has had to expend significant energy in order to save their life. Since in many cases animals are just barely surviving, expenditure of extra energy may push them over the edge to malnutrition and allow other predators to kill them. ..

Both types of predation are severely reduced, but not eliminated, if dogs remain leashed. However the simple fact is that a large percentage of dog owners allow their dogs to be off-leash even when the rules state otherwise. ..

Disease Transmission. It is worth recalling that the primary effect on Native Americans due to European immigration to the Americas was the importation of disease which killed off the majority of the Native Population. Dogs can apparently transmit a number of pathogens to wildlife:

  • Parvovirus affects other canines, and was the source for wolf pup mortality in Glacier National Park area in the early 1990s.
  • Muscle cysts (Sarcocystis spp.) can affect ungulates like deer and elk.
  • Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that affects the kidneys and urinary tract of most species of mammals.
  • Parasites such as ticks, keds, tapeworms, and fleas are well-known problems in dogs that can be passed to other wildlife.

Many of these pathogens are transmitted through the abundant feces that dogs leave on any trail.

Source: Domestic Dogs in Wildlife Habitats: Effects of Recreation on Rocky Mountain Wildlife.

Competition for Resources. Water is usually the scarcest resource in many places during the summer and fall…

Addition of nitrogen to the soil. Patrick Murphy, a plant ecologist, points out that dog poop adds significant nitrogen to the soil, which encourages the growth of non-native plants at the expense of native plants. (SDUT 12/9/01, E2)

Scent? It has often been said that just the scent left by a dog can affect the behavior of other species. While this certain is plausible, due to the strong importance of scent marking used by animals, apparently this has never been documented. (This does not mean that this is not a problem; simply that it has not been shown to true of false.) See A Review of Mammalian Scent Marking.

  • Dogs decrease the number and diversity of wildlife near the trail. Many people come to the SRP to see animals, so their enjoyment would be directly diminished.
  • Many non-dog owners are immensely bothered when a strange dog comes up to them and starts to smell them at close quarters, or worse, jumps up on them or barks at them. Many dog owners may not even be aware of this, since, after all, dog owners consider this close contact with their dog to be a pleasant experience, and may even think that everyone else enjoys this, too.
  • The presence of dogs would inevitably result in a small number of bad encounters between dogs themselves and between dogs and visitors. Small children are especially in danger from loose dogs, ranging from simply being knocked down by an enthusiastic dog to being bitten or seriously harmed.

In case dog owners reading this feel that the above information is simply the opinion of someone who does not like dogs, it is worth noting that I personally have hiked many miles with my dog in public areas where dogs are allowed. ..




Parks currently has rules to keep dogs on leash and keep all dogs out of certain areas such as beaches and playlots. These rules are routinely violated.

People who have dogs off leash in Parks are generally aware of the rules and ignore signage.

Off leash dogs are frequently off trail damaging and destroying vegetation, compacting soil, denuding slopes and impacting wildlife.

Off leash dogs widen trails and create informal trails fragmenting natural areas encroaching into wildlife habitat, stressing wildlife and reducing wildlife population.

As off leash dogs increase in number, lawn and trail use by other patrons decreases until perceived as de facto off leash areas.

Humans and dogs are increasing in population and hence encroachment into and impact on natural areas and accompanying natural life communities are increasing.

While Parks is flooded with off leash dog and off leash dog owner complaints, Parks has stories but no comprehensive studies on overall impact of off leash dogs.

Off leash areas do not direct off leash dogs, but only create overspill with accompanying issue mentioned above, and it is the responsibility of Parks superintendent to monitor impacts of off leash areas and to close them when negative impacts are determined.

It is the responsibility of Parks to ensure the comfort and safety of all patrons and to take good care of facilities and natural areas including vegetation and wildlife.

We propose that

Park’s conduct a thorough study of off leash dogs’ impact on parks patrons’ social comfort and deterred use, natural area vegetation and moss communities, soil compaction and chemistry, slopes especially with homes above, and wildlife including birds, reptiles, mammals and insects.

Park’s superintendent direct a thorough review of impact of designated off leash areas, and determination as to need for further environmental impact study.

Parks study the financial and environmental cost, graphing projected cost of off leash dogs with and without shift in Parks strategy (i.e. at current rate of increase versus reducing off leash dogs)

In lieu of considering adding more designated off leash areas, shift paradigm and strategy to off leash rule enforcement and increase the amount of natural area wildlife habitat acreage.

Parks hire a wildlife biologist to monitor and advocate for wildlife and their habitat through environmental intervention and administrative input on rules and patron use.

Study separating Parks into two: recreation facilities and natural areas, with a separate specialized staff structure for each.

Parks enforce its existing rules by:

-Requiring all staff to ask off leash dog owners to leash their dog every time they see an off leash dog, and where a name or license plate is known report off leash dog owners to animal control.

-Hire as many Park Rangers as needed to immediately respond to reports of off leash dogs, and to collaborate with Animal Control in authorizing Park Rangers to write tickets for off leash dogs.

-Animal Control and Park Rangers issue no verbal warnings for off leash dogs, only write tickets.

-Tracking both violations and rule compliance.


Feel free to politely ask people to leash up, but do not engage in conflict – it goes nowhere.

Document –take notes, log license plates numbers and descriptions, discreetly photograph.

To report off leash dogs to Animal Control – First discreetly obtain the license plate or address. Log the date, time, place, description of dog and owner,. Call 206/386-4258 to report an off leash dog. Make sure you give them the license plate or address. Animal Control will research to see if this is a repeat offense. If it’s the first time the offender will be mailed a friendly warning letter informing them where off leash areas are located. If it’s a repeat offense Animal Control will ask you if you are willing to complete an affidavit so they can issue the offender a ticket via mail.

Host a meeting – there are many like-minded people and it’s important for us to support one another. After this site is up for a while membership will grow to the point where you can announce a meeting. Email leashdogs@yahoo.com. Everyone who has subscribed to this site will get an email announcement. Just know that if you hold the meeting in a public space like a library or restaurant you may get infiltrators (off leashers) who have a legal right to be present but not disruptive. If you prefer to limit attendance to like-minded folks you can host on private property, like a residence.

Organize an action – get creative. Let us know if you’d like assistance writing a press release.

Write an opinion piece for a newspaper or local community blog.

Contact Parks, Parks Board of Commissioners, Animal Control, your local councilperson , and/or the mayor.

Submit a meeting announcement or article for consideration for this site, it’s distributed to everyone who signs up to get email notifications, email leashdogs@yahoo.com

Grow the Leash Dogs movement. Support and share this site with other concerned people.

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