To leash or not to leash dogs in Japanese Gulch?

City Council to consider signs encouraging gulch visitors to keep dogs on-leash
By Nicholas Johnson | Sep 27, 2017
Photo by: Nicholas Johnson Randal Schuld of Mukilteo walks his 9-year-old pugadore Tiva along trails in Japanese Gulch on Monday, Sept. 25. Schuld said he prefers to walk Tiva off-leash while in the gulch, though he understands why others would prefer dogs remain on-leash. He said he likes the idea of designating a day of the week or specific trails for walking dogs off-leash in gulch.

The question of whether dogs should be kept on-leash while in Japanese Gulch returns to the City Council on Monday, Oct. 2.

Last year when the council unanimously approved the Japanese Gulch Master Plan, it held off on deciding whether dogs should be kept on-leash or allowed to run un-tethered through the city park that borders Everett.

Now, the city’s Parks and Arts Commission has recommended the City Council adopt a plan to place signs at the entrances to the park educating visitors on the need to keep dogs on-leash and asking that they voluntarily do so.

“We’re asking for voluntary compliance,” Recreation and Cultural Services Director Jeff Price said. “This is a baby step to encourage and educate the community on why dogs should be kept on-leash.”

Not only has use of the park increased over the past year, citizen complaints about off-leash dogs have increased, Price said.

“We don’t have hard data right now,” he said, noting that Park Ranger Peg Bohan has reported an increase in complaints. “It’s anecdotal at this point.”

The educational campaign would be tied into an existing plan to put signs in the gulch featuring information about its status as a conservation area. That project is funded at $8,000 for 2017. There would be no additional cost to add information about keeping dogs on-leash, Price said.

“We also want to educate people that its actually safer for dogs to be on-leash,” he said.

An increase in the coyote population has put dogs at risk in the gulch, he said.

“But that’s just one factor of many,” he said. “We have more people using the gulch. We have hikers and bird watchers and families with young children. We need to look at this from a broader perspective than just those who walk dogs.”

Price also said keeping dogs on leash is better for environmental conservation, such as keeping dog poop out of nearby streams, for example.

“You can’t scoop what you can’t see,” he said.

Under city code, dogs are expected to be on-leash in parks throughout the city, except for the designated off-leash dog park along Mukilteo Boulevard. Responding to complaints of off-leash dogs has been a challenge for the city’s park rangers, he said, because of the park’s border with Everett. That’s why he’s not seeking an ordinance; it would be too difficult to enforce, he said.

Price acknowledged that many dog owners feel strongly about being able to let their dogs run free. Parks and Arts Commission Vice Chair Janet Hammerman said she remembers a pretty even split within the community over this issue.

The results of a 2015 survey illustrated that split. Of some 311 residents surveyed, 37.62 percent wanted off-leash trails, 19.61 percent didn’t care either way and 42.77 percent wanted on-leash trails.

Hammerman said she would prefer to be able to walk her dog off-leash, though she understands why others want dogs kept on-leash.

“I think the reason they want dogs on leash is some people are scared of dogs,” she said. “What I would like to see is a compromise. If you say, ‘No, it’s an on-leash park from now on,’ I don’t think peoplewill follow the rules as well as they should.”

Hammerman said she would like to see some trails set aside for waking dogs off-leash, or possible the a day of the week or a time of day when people can let their dogs run free.

“My suggestion is that there be some time or day or area to have your dog off-leash,” she said. “That way almost 100 percent of the people would be happy.”

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