On a weekday morning at Dakota Memorial Dog Park in Vancouver, Diesel, a Jack Russell terrier, eagerly leapt at a tennis ball held by his owner, Cindy Rotermund.
Rotermund, a retiree who recently moved to the area, said she regularly comes to the off-leash dog park with Diesel and Newton, her pointer. She said it’s good for her pets to be off leash so they can run around, play with and sniff other canines.
But Rotermund said she actively avoids coming to the park on the weekends, when she’s heard there can be up to 100 dogs in the 8-acre park.
“Maybe the dogs would like it,” Rotermund said. “But not me.”
As Clark County’s population continues to grow, newcomers are bringing their dogs with them and putting new strains on the county’s off-leash dog parks. Now, the parks, which have periodically faced closures and financial challenges, could all close.
The parks are maintained by local nonprofit DOGPAW, which stands for Dog Owners Group for Park Access in Washington. Mark Watson, the group’s board president, said DOGPAW has turned to the county for help in managing the increasingly packed parks that he said are becoming rife with conflict and dangerous situations.
“By Sept. 1, if we cannot come to some form of agreement with this, we will pull up stakes,” Watson said.
That will mean all of the fencing around the parks will be pulled up, he said. The group’s board will also begin looking at setting up a new park that only members with a key card can access, a scenario Watson described as a “travesty.”
DOGPAW maintains the county’s four off-leash dog parks, two of which are within county parks, using funds from donations and sponsorships and no public money, Watson said.
The parks’ rules require dogs using them to be licensed with the county and be on leash in parking lots. He said aggressive dogs need to be removed by their owners under the rules, which discourage bringing in small children.
In June, Watson sent a letter to Bill Bjerke, county parks manager, stating that the pressure of population growth and last year’s closure of Stevenson Off Leash Dog Park in Washougal has “led to a significant increase in use, resulting in a rise of violations to park rules and conflict in the parks that has unfortunately become unmanageable.”
The letter, obtained through a public records request, states that an average of 8,800 people and dogs visit the parks during the week and 3,800 on weekends. It states that people are bringing aggressive dogs or dogs that aren’t neutered into the park, or are leaving their dogs unleashed in parking lots.
Watson wrote that people are increasingly bringing small children to the off-leash parks, and it is “only a matter of time before a serious injury occurs.”