It’s only the beginning of the month, but the most incredible thing we have heard so far is the Bend Park & Recreation District’s claim Wednesday that “we have increased the average of dogs on leash in parks to about 80 percent compliance.”

We asked Park Stewardship Manager Jeff Hagler how he came up with that number.

“Yesterday when I did a bike patrol through Shevlin Park I recorded 10 dogs on leash and 2 dogs off leash,” Hagler told us. “That is where I get the 80 percent compliance number. As I talk with my staff that is about average we have had this summer throughout the park system. There are certainly some days that we only have 50 percent to 60 percent compliance but that is not the norm.”

The Bend Park & Recreation District is not expected to be the Bend Park & Recreation District & Office of Statistical Analysis. It does, though, have a responsibility to provide the public with good information. That 80 percent compliance number, at least, masks what happens every day at Shevlin Park.

The park district wants people to know that roaming dogs can hurt or scare people and other dogs. They can drive off wildlife. The district wants to put a stop to off-leash dogs where they are not supposed to be. The district is even banning all dogs — on or off leash — from its Riley Ranch Nature Preserve.

The park district staff primarily uses education to correct dog owner behavior. The district has also issued 16 written warnings to dog owners this year. It has never used its most powerful tool — temporarily excluding anyone from the park system for repeated dog offenses. Park staff can’t actually issue a formal citation for a dog off leash. Only the police can do that.

How good a job is the park district doing? Telling the public it has increased compliance to 80 percent is a great narrative.

The first step in providing the public with accurate information, though, should be good data. A bike ride through one park doesn’t cut it. Shevlin Park, in particular, is not an easy place to gather data, because it’s hard to capture what people are doing with their dogs all over the park at any moment in time. Especially for one person. It would also be a bad place to make generalizations for the whole park system. The incident rate of off-leash dogs seems much higher in Shevlin than in, say, Drake Park. In the northern stretch of Shevlin past Aspen Hall, it can be hard some days to find anyone who has leashed their dog.

When we talked to Hagler on the phone, he did say his park staff do counts of dog violations they see across the park system. And that is the data — plus apparently his bike rides — he used to reached the conclusion that the district reached 80 percent compliance over the summer. But if that accurately reflects what’s happening in Shevlin Park, we must only pick the days and times to visit when the scofflaws are out.

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