Editorial: Don't play with off-leash dogs on trails


Published May 22, 2013 at 02:06AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

Bend parks and trails are scenes of all sorts of polite — usually — clashes: Bike v. pedestrian. Duck and geese feeders v. Bend law. And off-leash dog v. on-leash dog or people or bikes.

Some candidates for the Bend Park & Recreation Board said they wanted to look into allowing more off-leash dogs on Bend park trails. People at the district have also thought about the matter.

We are dog-lovers too, but we don’t think it’s a good idea to allow more off-leash dogs on trails in the city.

The law in Bend is basically that dogs can’t run around off-leash. Dogs do, of course. It doesn’t matter what the law says.

Maybe most of the dog owners who let their dog run around off-leash are responsible enough to not let a dog off-leash if it has a history of being aggressive or exuberantly jumping on people or running in front of bicyclists. But dogs off-leash and on leash are packed with surprises.

Some communities have experimented with more off-leash freedom. Boulder, Colo., started a pilot program in 2006. Dogs could be off-leash on certain trails if they were under “voice-and-sight” control of their owners. Dogs wear green tags to signify that their owners are aware of the policy.

As you might expect, it works and it doesn’t. Boulder’s Daily Camera reported that a study showed half the dogs with green tags failed to come when their owners called. The city has talked about increasing fines, green tag revocation policies, and even green tag appeal policies for dogs that have transgressed but have reformed.

If Bend were to try a similar pilot on a trail or trails in the city, we don’t think the results would be much different. Some dogs and their owners would thrive. Other members of the public would suffer, no matter how the policy is tuned.

Dogs are athletes. They can run and run and should be able to run and run and sniff and play. If there is truly a need for more dog parks and dog access to the river, the district should look into it. The district shouldn’t play around with dogs running off-leash on trails through Bend.