- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 8, 2004

For urban dog owners, making friends in the city is a snap. Just ask Eloy del Toro, who lives in the District. When he walked his big Australian shepherd mix puppy, Jackson, to Walter Pierce Park on Adams Mill Road near his home for the first time a couple of years ago, he found a canine meet-and-greet that extended to the humans too.

“There were all these other dogs there and their owners, and that’s essentially how you got to know the neighborhood,” Mr. del Toro says.

With the country’s pet population on the rise — a Pet Food Institute survery in 2000 found more than 60 million pet dogs in the United States, an increase of 6 million since 1981 — the need for places where dogs can exercise and socialize (and where their people can do the same) becomes almost pressing.

In Virginia and Maryland, assorted jurisdictions boast authorized dog runs and dog parks where, under strict guidelines and rules, dogs are allowed to meet, exercise, and play off-leash.

But in the District, which has no law authorizing legal off-leash dog areas, runs or parks, dogs and their owners have only one place to meet legally — and that’s among the dearly departed, who keep their own company.

Congressional Cemetery at 1801 E St. SE, a privately operated burying ground that holds the remains of such luminaries as John Philip Sousa and J. Edgar Hoover, allows dog owners to legally walk and exercise their dogs (except during funerals) for a yearly donation of $125 and a $40 registration fee per dog — so long as the living frolickers, canine and otherwise, obey the cemetery’s rules. Dog owners are asked to keep a close watch on animals’ aggressive behavior and to remove their pets’ leavings.

Everywhere else in the city — at Malcolm X Park on 16th Street NW, at Logan Circle, at Volta Park and Montrose Park in Georgetown or at Lincoln Park on Capitol Hill — dogs and their owners get together on a much more informal basis, one that an observer of the Volta Park scene who did not wish to be identified describes as a “live-and-let-live” arrangement, one that depends on dog owners’ respect for the neighbors and the neighbors’ sense of tolerance.

These, as some neighborhood people hasten to tell you, are assuredly not dog parks. That’s because the District does not permit owners to allow their animals to “go at large” — that is, off-leash.

• • •

That situation may change, and soon. Last November, District Mayor Anthony Williams sent the city council the Dog Park Establishment Amendment Act of 2003.

That legislation would allow the District’s director of Parks and Recreation to authorize, on District-owned land that is not currently used, off-leash dog exercise areas (“dog parks”) that have clear support from the surrounding community. It would permit the mayor to set rules for the runs’ operation and use.

Though a hearing on the measure was held in June, the issue is on hold until the recessed council returns this month.

Assistant Acting Director of the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation Drew Becker says that, while he sees some sort of enabling legislation as “inevitable,” it does not mean that dog parks and dog runs would spring up all over the city overnight.

“Nobody will be forced to turn existing areas into dog parks. The areas will have to come with community approval, with restrictions, rules, and regulation. What this would do is give Parks and Recreation authority to create dog areas and oversee them.”

It’s a slow process, “like watching grass grow,” says Kathy Silva, a founding member of the DC Dog Owners Group (DCDOG), a citywide coalition of groups that lobbies for enclosed dog areas in the District.

• • •

But it’s a start, and it has come about largely through the efforts of District dog owners, who have banded together to work for the creation of legal dog parks.

Mr. del Toro, for instance, an assistant director for the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise who lives on Ontario Place in Adams Morgan, was among several founders in 2002 of Adams Morgan Dogs (AMDogs), a volunteer group that promotes the idea of safe green spaces for dogs and their owners in District parks.

For him, there’s more to the dog-park issue than exercise, play and socializing. There’s security.

“One other thing that happens,” he says of the present informal meet-and-greets, “is that the presence of people and their dogs often is a welcome addition as far as safety issues at the park go.”

It’s a view that’s echoed by Patrick Crowley, a member of the board of directors of Congressional Cemetery who exercises his Saint Bernard there.

“The dog walkers and the dogs add to the safety of the areas, I think,” he says. “And dog owners are very conscientious about cleaning up, controlling their dogs. It’s a good thing all around.”

Mr. del Toro’s favorite space, Walter Pierce Park in the 2600 block of Adams Mill Road, is a multiuse park that includes a basketball court, a large playing field used primarily for soccer, a new and popular playground and other open areas.

AMDogs has actively gone about creating plans and getting support for a dog run as part of Pierce Park. It has scouted similar parks in Virginia and Maryland, and joined forces last year with DCDOG, whose motto is “Power to the puppies.”

DCDOG’s Ms. Silva, 61, a retired teacher and consultant on education issues, lives with a small bichon frise in Glover Park, where space for dogs isn’t in abundance. She believes the idea of dog parks is one whose time has come.

“I think the reality is that the number of dog owners in urban areas is growing and that people have to get used to that idea,” she says.

“There are more and more pets, and commercial businesses catering to them in every neighborhood. We’re required to keep our pets healthy. Dogs need plenty of exercise to remain healthy, yet there’s no place for them to exercise.”

DCDOG operates citywide. But AMDogs’ roots remain in Adams Morgan, a hotbed of dog lovers. The residential neighborhood boasts several animal clinics, a doggie bakery specializing in high-end dog treats and other products, a number of dog walkers, and dog-friendly apartments around Walter Pierce Park.

“Dog owners and dogs, in order to make life better for themselves, need to be a part of the community they’re in,” Mr. del Toro, 36, says.

AMDogs, which has several members on the board of the Friends of Walter Pierce Park, has worked closely with the Friends and has helped raise funds for other community events and causes. It stages dog shows and holds “Doggy Hours” — receptions and get-togethers that also serve as fund-raisers — at local restaurants like Grille 88 and Chief Ike’s Mambo Room.

“Nothing will happen without community support,” Mr. del Toro says. “We’re all in this together.”

Neil Albert, currently deputy mayor for Children, Youth, Families and Elders, was director of the Department of Parks and Recreation when the move began for this legislation. He has high praise for AMDogs’ management of the issue.

“AMDogs did everything the right way in terms of the process, the way you should do it,” Mr. Albert says.

• • •

For a sense of just how difficult it is to establish a place for dogs to run, it’s enough to talk to Chris Robichaux of Falls Church, who heads the Mason District Dog Opportunity Group, which managed to start a dog run in Mason District Park in Annandale in 2002. Mr. Robichaux testified at the District hearing in June in support of community-inspired dog parks.

Mr. Robichaux and his wife, Carla, are the owners of two Jack Russell puppies, but he did not have dogs when he helped lead the effort to create a dog run in Fairfax County four years ago. That’s when the county leash laws were amended to allow community-sponsored groups — similar to AMDogs and DCDOG — to establish and manage off-leash dog areas.

“We had to jump through a lot of hoops,” Mr. Robichaux says. “There were people who were afraid about dog droppings, people not looking after their dogs, dogs attacking kids, that sort of thing.

“The end result though, that was worth it. It’s an opportunity for the dogs to exercise. It’s a chance for dogs to run and play. I’ve also seen people that come there and sit and just watch the dogs play.”

The 6-acre Off Leash Dog Area in the Mason District area of Fairfax County opened in June 2002 and underwent a one-year trial period.

“Believe me, during the process, we heard from a lot of different people, with all sorts of concerns, some of them downright weird,” Mr. Robichaux says. “There are rules and regulations that dog owners have to abide by and comply with. I think everyone has them.”

• • •

They’re certainly evident at Congressional Cemetery. Go there on any given good-weather evening and you can see the virtues of a controlled but free-roaming open space dog park.

Congressional Cemetery is, of course, unusual in terms of size and geographical diversity. There are hills, trees, a creek, sidewalks and grass. It has become, over time, a gathering place for the people, a play area for dogs. Both people and dogs exchange gossip here, each in their own way. Young mothers with babies abound in the evening.

“People have met socially here and have ended up getting married in the chapel here — with the dogs in attendance,” says Mr. Crowley.

Mothers with their new babies compare notes. Big dogs and small dogs run, the older dogs just lying on the grass, taking in the scene. A boxer finds a mudhole and revels in it. It’s an idyllic scene where people and dogs are at one with a comfortable, free environment.

On a smaller scale, that’s where dog owners and dog people like Mr. del Toro and the people served by the AMDogs group want to end up, too.

“We’re ready to go, when it happens,” Mr. del Toro says.

Places to take your dog for a run

Looking for a dog run? Mont- gomery County, Fair-fax County, Arlington and Alexandria all boast legal designated dog parks, dog runs and off-leash exercise areas, with more on the way.

Good general guides to area dog runs can be found at www.metropets.org/yellowpages/parks.php, at www.mc-dog.org/park_guide.html and at www.co.fairfax.va.us/parks/offleash.htm. Here’s a sampling from those sources.

District

• 1801 E St. SE. 202/543-0539. A private, non-profit burial ground. Dog owners must join (for a $125 annual donation) the Association for the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery and its K-9 Corps. Limit three dogs per membership, at a yearly fee of $40 per dog. Dogs must wear a current tag issued by the cemetery.

Among the rules: Dog walkers police themselves. They must keep their animals under their own control, away from non-dog-walking visitors or maintenance crews, and must clean up after their dogs. They must keep dogs away from non-dog-walking visitors or maintenance crews. Dogs that bite dogs must be leashed or muzzled. Dogs that bite humans are barred from the grounds for life. Barking and snarling by dogs at guests and visitors are not tolerated.

Hours: dawn to dusk except on specified holidays, when the cemetery is closed to dog walkers from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The cemetery is also closed to dog walkers one hour before, during and after burials.

Montgomery County

• Boyds: Black Hill Regional Park, 20930 Lake Ridge Road. Dog park off the main parking lot on Black Hill Road. An additional 10 miles of trails for dog walking. 301/972-3476 or www.mc-dog.org/black_hill.html.

• Gaithersburg: The Dog Exercise Area (DEA) in Green Park, 151 Bickerstaff Way. The only official dog park in Montgomery County. About 1 acres. Gaithersburg residents must have current license for each dog. Nonresidents must be members of DEA. Applications for both licenses and DEA membership available at City Hall.

Nonresident DEA memberships, good for one year, require (for each dog) a completed application, current rabies certificate, current photograph and $25 fee. Rules include restrictions against (canine) aggressive behavior, digging, protracted barking, females in heat, toys other than tennis balls, and (human) smoking or eating.

Call 301/258-6343 or link to www.gaithersburgmd.gov from www.metropets.org/yellowpages/parks.php.

• Germantown: Ridge Road Recreational Park, 21155 Frederick Road. A fenced, unshaded off-leash park. 301/972-9396 or www.mc-dog.org/ridge_rd.html.

• Wheaton Regional Park: Wheaton Regional Dog Park, 2000 Shorefield Road. Dog park off the main parking lot. In addition, 7 miles of trails open for dog walking. Sunrise to sunset daily, year-round. 301/680-3803.

City of Alexandria

• Ben Brennan Park: By Backlick Creek. Fenced.

• Duke Street: 5000 block, east of the Charles E. Beatley Jr. Library. Fenced.

• Montgomery Park: at the corner of Fairfax and First streets. Fenced.

• Simpson Stadium Park: at Monroe Avenue. Fenced.

• Unfenced sites: See https://ci.alexandria.va.us/recreation/parks/dogpark.html.

Arlington

• Benjamin Banneker Park: 1600 Block, N. Sycamore St. About 0.6 acre. Permanent, year-round water supply. Wheelchair accessible. See www.angelfire.com/va2/BannekerDogs.

• Clarendon Park: 13th and Herndon streets. Sponsored by ClarendonDogs.

• Shirlington Park: 2601 S. Arlington Mill Drive. Sponsored by ShirlingtonDogs.

Fairfax County

• Annandale: Mason District Park, 6621 Columbia Pike. Sponsored by Mason District Dog Opportunity Group. Capacity 62 dogs. Dawn to dusk.

• Herndon: Chandon Park, 900 Palmer Drive. Sponsored by Herndon Dogs, Inc. Capacity 42 dogs. Dawn to dusk.

• Oakton: Blake Lane Park, 10033 Blake Lane. Sponsored by OaktonDogs, Inc. Capacity 25 dogs. Dawn to dusk.

• Reston: Baron Cameron, 11300 Baron Cameron Ave. Sponsored by RestonDogs, Inc. Capacity 40 dogs. Water supply and separate area for dogs under 25 lbs. Dawn to dusk.

• Springfield: South Run District Park, 7550 Reservation Drive. Sponsored by Lorton Dogs, Inc. Capacity 85 dogs. Dawn to dusk.

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