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Dog Park meetups: Can't we all just get along? How?

How would you address the issue of big-dog time vs. little-dog time at Arctic Benson Dog Park? Should there be special times for small dogs? How many hours/days per week is fair? What happens when little dogs don't show up at little-dog time? Are there any ways big-dog owners could know that in advance to plan to be there themselves?

Here's some history:

Anchorage's first and only fenced-dog park arrived this summer to much acclaim from the community and dog owners alike. The Arctic Benson Dog Park, located on Arctic Boulevard between 31st and 32nd avenues, was the culmination of years of work of the Midtown Community Council, the Anchorage Parks Foundation, Parks and Rec. and many, many others. It is a gem of a facility and a shining example of how a positive influence -- a steady stream of dog owners -- can help improve a community. It is an unqualified success by any stretch of the imagination.

That said, there are some issues that users of the park have struggled with. The one I'm going to address here is large vs. small dogs. In a perfect world, all agree, there would be a fence separating large- and small-dog areas. That way, your 5-pound Chihuahua is not going to be trampled inadvertently by your 200-pound Great Dane. Both have the potential to play nicely and get along, but the chances of injury increase exponentially when the size of the animals is so drastically different. Small dog owners would like to do everything they can to protect their dogs, and frankly, large-dog owners don't need to worry about their dog stepping on something and breaking it because it is fragile. Unfortunately, the park wasn't deemed large enough to close off a section for little dogs.

I was overjoyed when the community council and the city addressed that issue and designated six hours a week -- 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday -- for dogs 25-pounds and under and all service dogs.

There are also many service dogs in the community, and the community council wanted to make sure that their sometimes-disabled owners are never denied access to the park. They are allowed access to the park at all times.

But the designation of hours is where the problems started. Some people disagreed, saying a municipal park is for everyone and no dogs should be excluded at any time. There was  friction between the two groups at the park, and the city responded by making permanent signs designating the little-dog hours. Not everyone was happy, but at least the rules were clear.

Flash forward to our fall. The new park got muddy with all the rain and traffic from dogs. It was manageable for die-hards, but it was enough to scare away many of the little dogs. In fact, the little dogs didn't show up in numbers that some thought justified the special hours. They wondered why the park was closed when no little dogs or service dogs were showing up. 

Frankly, they had a good point. Although they could certainly use the park if no little dogs showed up, they couldn't plan on it. They had to wait and see. 

Both sides have good points. The little-dog owners aren't going to go to the park if the park is muddy, but their original point -- they need a safe place to play -- is still valid. Now that the snow has come and the mud is gone, they're ready to return.

The question here: Do they deserve the special hours if they're not going to guarantee they'll show up? How would you address the issue. Please leave your responses here or email me at