Meeting set for Aug. 14 to discuss small-dog hours at dog parks

A big dog and a small dog size each other up at Moon Park. Mike Lewis

On Thursday, Aug. 14, the Municipality of Anchorage Animal Control Advisory Board will hold a public hearing to address "small dog hours" at Arctic Benson Dog Park and at the proposed Valley of the Moon Park dog park.

If you have an opinion one way or the other, I strongly suggest you plan on attending the 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. meeting at the Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility building, 3000 Arctic Blvd., so your voice is heard.

Before rushing to judgment, please humor me with a serious discussion here on this topic. As the owner of two well-socialized Yorkies of 10 pounds and under, I have given this matter a lot of thought. I've also attended and observed interactions at hundreds of dog meetups with big dogs and small over the past eight years.

Before I get started, a caveat: Dog parks are not for everyone. Some of the most experienced dog people I know refuse to go to them because you never know what kind of dog is going to show up. But for others, dog parks are a great way to get their dogs some socialization and some needed exercise. It's a decision each dog owner has to make for themselves and their dogs.

As for me, I won't bury the lead: Though at one time I thought small-dog hours were the next-best thing to a fence separating small- and large-dog areas, I no longer think it's a good idea. While I feel there is a serious safety need to separate some little dogs and some big dogs during unleashed play, this topic has been far too divisive for the dog community in general. I'd rather not bring my dogs to a dog park during little dog hours than to have repeated confrontations with big-dog-only owners who think dog parks are for all dogs all the time.

What I hear from many big-dog owners is they don't think a park should be closed during certain hours to accommodate one group of dog owners. Their argument is, Why not big-dog-only hours? Or why not senior dog hours? Or show dog hours? An idea that started out as a safety concern quickly became one of citizens' rights.

At best, little-dog owners are split. Some adamantly refuse to have their small dogs in the same unleashed area as bigger dogs -- one playfully lowered paw from a 75 pound Lab could break a 5-pound Chihuahua's back. Others want their dogs to be able to socialize with big dogs; still others might have a big dog and a little dog, and it's not practical to exercise them both at different times. 

The answer the Arctic Benson Community Council came up with is a compromise. Recognizing that their small dog park can't accommodate all the needs of all the dog owners in town, they set out to make the park accessible to as many people in the most reasonable way they could come up with. They set six hours a week -- 10 a.m. to noon Saturday and Sunday, and 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesdays -- for little dogs and service dogs only, with 25 pounds and under being defined as "little." They kept the park open to service dogs at all hours. At all other hours, all-sized dogs can show up.

You can get dizzy trying to weigh all the arguments. Everyone has an opinion, and few are open to finding middle ground. In my opinion, small dog hours don't work. They only create animosity.

What would work is what they do all over the Lower 48, where dog parks abound -- a fence separating the big-dog area from the small-dog area. If your dog can hang with the big dogs, you're free to go to the larger all-dogs area. If your dog is either afraid of big dogs or can't handle spirited play, you have a smaller area just for you.

That way, the park is never closed to any dogs meeting the requirements for entry, and you can even change your mind in the middle of a meetup and go from one to the other.

Ahh, but separate areas take up space, and fences cost money. The Arctic Benson Community Council was of the opinion that their park is not big enough to divide. And I'm told those discussing a dog park at Valley of the Moon say it's difficult enough getting a bare-minimum park approved because of the expense; adding a fence didn't work financially.

My opinion is I'm either going to take my small dogs during all-dog-hours or I'm not going to go the dog park at all. I'll hope that developers of Anchorage dog parks of the future will have the foresight and finances to include a fenced separation. I think this meeting discussing the issue is a good start.

What's your opinion? How would you accommodate all dogs at dog parks?