Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Trouble in Paradise

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.


  1. This is another outstanding post for which I express my gratitude.

    I've just sent it in full to my state's Parks and Wildlife service while deploring its recent decision to authorise dog and horse access to our beautiful Seven Mile Beach reserve.

    That decision effectively bans me from visiting that reserve.

    Where there are dogs there will not be me.

    1. Here in Arizona, there was a great hue and cry when the Smoke-Free Arizona law went into effect. It banned smoking in bars and restaurants unless there was a separate and very well ventilated smoking area.

      Well, judging from all the overheated rhetoric, you might have thought that ever bar and restaurant in this state was about to fold up and die.

      Quite the opposite happened. Many restaurants and bars noted increased business. Funny thing was, people liked to breathe smoke-free air when they were out for a drink or a meal.

      Locally here in Tucson, the Fourth Avenue Street Fair recently banned dogs. And, yes, the dog owners got all up in arms. But they were drowned out by all the other people who looked forward to not tripping over dogs, or having to avoid dog fights, at the Street Fair.

    2. Peter, interesting you should mention horses. The animal "uncontrol" issue came up in a chapter meeting a few months ago. One colleague had a nasty run in with some horseback riders in the national forest. It was a section of trail that was clearly marked "foot traffic only" and also had a sign that clearly indicated no horses. In any case, he came across some horseback riders and told them politely that the section of trail was closed to horses. They got belligerent and nasty with him, started making threats, said "what are you going to do about it?" There was nothing he COULD do so he let them on their way.

      We have very good reasons to set these restrictions. There are some places where some animals can not and should not go. Horses really tear up a trail and some places are just too sensitive for that. When people ride horses in these areas, the resulting destruction creates more work for US.

  2. AU: 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. ... However, when someone pulls up to the gate TODAY with a dog, there is some probability that the individual is some self-entitled miscreant.

    Boy, does that second sentence resonate with me. As a multi-dog owner, I am often as sick of other dog owners as AU and anyone else here.

    I think externally imposed regulation as you've suggested is probably the only way to protect the State Parks. Self-regulation has turned out to be impossible to organize among dog owners, even on the level of a single street or neighborhood (believe me, I've tried it) due to your sentence number two above. One thing that irks me is how reluctant sane dog owners are to exercise social control upon the pathologically narcissistic ones. To this day, when I shout 'hey! clean that up!' to someone who I saw leave their dog's turd on the sidewalk, the addressee is totally gobsmacked when they turn around and see it's someone walking with three dogs who addressed them.

    As for punishing the many because of the few, well, that's a matter of degree. Where it's about about deprivation of basic Constitutional rights or weighty civil rights, we must apply great caution. But this is about really very -- even stupidly -- trivial consumer choices, no more than that. No dog owner is a whit less free to enjoy their privilege to own a dog just because they can't take it with them literally everywhere they go.

    If the supposedly good many find their cowardice is resulting in limitation of their own consumer choice to bring the dog, maybe that would spur them to address the anti-social dog owners? [Just thinking like a trainer here, who knows talking is a waste of time, confrontation with consequences is the thing.]

    It's a mystery to me why dog owners call themselves 'animal lovers', but then by their behavior show they think only dogs (or others: only pit bulls) are animals deserving of peace and protection. Aside from Park flora (which I also care about), you'd think 'animal lovers' would at least cooperate in protecting Park fauna...

    That they don't just goes to show you're not really talking about anything fundamental to them, but only about limiting a truly trivial consumerist choice.

    I'm fervently hoping your director adopts your moderate measures, and if those don't have enough impact that the parks completely ban dogs.

    Then let the Entitled Narcissists (and the Social Control Cowards) scream and shout without responding. It'll die out pretty quick, as does all attention-getting (in this case: tantrum) behavior that isn't rewarded by attention or caving-in.

    P.S. As a good trainer, I also think a 'shoot on sight' policy re roaming pit bulls would very quickly cure the 'it SOMEHOW escaped' problem... But that's material for another rant some other time. Today it's just: Good for you for proposing what you did to the Parks director.

  3. Hello Sweetie Pie:

    Great reply. Its SO good I may dedicate an entire essay to it.


  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Just sitting here reading this, but thinking I need to go out and enjoy the day, go to the park.

    The park where just the last Monday morning, the dog companion lets the dog jump on a bench and lick up a small puddle of rain water - is where I am thinking of going. Feeling salty that morning - after getting barked at by dogs these days at home or wherever since they are now all over the place - give a passive aggressive 'disgusting' to that human.

    There are now garbage cans for crap all over the park. Recently went for a concert - and feared sitting on crap remnants in the grass.

    So it does put me off a little bit - maybe just stick with the street routes - what's the difference in terms of pleasantness?

    Regardless all the poop is gross. Can't go anywhere without almost stepping in it these days. On sidewalks even around my complex with the lazy new dog people.