As I noted in my “Overton” post, the baby may wind up getting thrown out with the bathwater. I am generally opposed to punishing the many for the actions of the few, BUT when there is a lot at stake, sometimes that is the best solution.
My volunteer work centers around maintaining hiking trails in my state, promoting outdoor activities among the general population, organizing work hikes, promoting and preserving our various outdoor spaces such as State Parks and National Forests. I am an executive of and an activity leader for my state scenic trail association.
I am a very active supporter of my State Park system and I have working relationships with park rangers and other volunteers at many sites.
This relates to the subject matter at hand because my colleagues and I have noted with some alarm the increase in pet-related problems in the state parks. We have noted high incidences of the following in the state parks:
- Frequent, useless, loud barking.
- Dog poop everywhere.
- Dogs off leash.
- Dogs where they are expressly prohibited.
- Dogs behaving threateningly/dangerously towards people.
- Dogs harassing wildlife.
- Dogs destroying park property.
ALL of the above are in direct violation of park rules. Dogs and related offenses are our #1 complaint! Note that most people (90%+) do NOT bring their pets to the park, so while there are a large and increasing number of offenses, these offenses are being committed by a relatively small (and easy to identify) population of park goers.
Consider our 2 main directives:
1) Preserve the park resources, and
2) Create and maintain a positive park going experience for the largest number of people.
It is becoming rapidly apparent that allowing dogs into the state parks is contrary to both of those directives and as such is more trouble than it is worth. No one makes a choice to day trip or camp at a state park so they can listen to someone else’s dog(s) bark the entire time, have dogs lunge and/or chase them, etc…. In this challenging fiscal and political environment, it is absolutely critical that the parks be someplace people CHOSE to go: High “attendance” is a MUST if we are to maintain these resources. Once a park guest is harassed into leaving, they will not be coming back AND they will tell their friends and family not to bother going, either. Each miscreant will drive away many others, and that is a loss we cannot afford. Moreover, the noise, waste, and dangerous activity is not natural to the environment nor is it useful in any way.
I have engaged our park system director directly and insisted that steps be taken. I urged some “moderate” and immediate changes that included: Empowering rangers to write citations; excluding any dog that is obviously badly behaved (ie barks at the ranger in the booth when the owners car pulls up); immediate eviction of any and all miscreants; sternly reminding park guests with dogs of their RESPONSIBILITY to refrain from creating a nuisance; actively patrol; charge additional park fees for pets; etc…
I made the additional request that, if the above changes do not have a profound effect, then dogs be banned completely from the state park system. This would be an unfortunate step to take, however there is too much at stake to waste time fooling around or playing games. Bringing ANY animal to a state park is a guest privilege NOT a right. Note that the park system had a previous ban on dogs (that was lifted in the early 2000’s). If it was done before, it can be done again.
I believe the root causes of this problem are: The complete, utter failure of the pet owning community to self-regulate and a total public policy fail regarding animal control. If pet owners were “vetted” on the outside, we could be confident that they would not cause a problem in the parks. However, when someone pulls up to the gate TODAY with a dog, there is some probability that the individual is some self-entitled miscreant.
The problems with off-leash and vicious dogs has become SUCH a problem that I have in fact taken the extreme step of “packing” on all my hikes. If it gets any worse I’m going to have to terminate my volunteer activities. Many of my colleagues will do the same.
This situation has also created a huge liability problem where if a park guest were to be, say, KILLED or seriously injured by a dog it would be devastating to our interests.
Many will say “but you shouldn’t punish the many for the actions of the few”. Good point, as many dogs in the park are not a problem. However, we are currently left with attempting to “weed out” the relatively large minority of miscreants AFTER they have offended other guests and damaged our interests. Moreover, park staff and volunteers have better things to do than constantly battle entitled, irresponsible and malicious dog owners. I am NOT promoting and maintaining the parks in my spare time FOR FREE so a few nutters can run them into the ground. We have completely HAD it with these people!
Again, bringing any animal to a state park is a privilege that can be revoked at any time…. We don’t even NEED a reason to throw them all out. The cheapest, easiest and most productive thing to do would be to simply re-institute the ban. Of course, dog owners can still visit the park… they just can’t bring their pets with them.