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Small dogs gain a little ground in Anchorage dog parks

Devin Kelly
Floyd the Cardigan Welsh Corgi leaps off the bleachers in the fenced dog park at Valley of the Moon Park on Thursday, July 31, 2014. Floyd and his human Ken Varee had the park to themselves at midday. Bob Hallinen / Alaska Dispatch News

A couple times a week, the fenced Arctic Benson dog park in Midtown Anchorage converts into a haven for little dogs.

A sign posted at the park lays out the rules. From 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays and Sundays, and 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, only dogs weighing 25 pounds or less can come into the park, with the exception of service dogs. No big dogs allowed.

The Anchorage Parks and Recreation department put the policy in place about a year ago, after small-dog owners requested the separate time blocks, said Holly Spoth-Torres, parks superintendent. She said that in dog parks across the U.S., placing big dogs and little dogs together in fenced areas generally leads to bullying and intimidation.   

"Owners feel more comfortable when the sizes are separated," she said.

In Anchorage, the separation of the sizes may at some point become more widespread. Officials are in the process of evaluating the Arctic Benson policy, with the possibility of expanding specific times for small dogs at the Valley of the Moon off-leash dog area. 

An Animal Control Advisory Board hearing will take place in two weeks to gather community input and hear other suggestions. 

“It’s just a matter of, how do we meet the needs of the small dog community?” said Kayla Epstein, member of the Animal Control Advisory Board and chair of the Off-Leash Dog Area Committee and herself the owner of a mini-pinscher.

Kellie Robinson, 47, used to bring her 8-pound Chihuahua, Scout, to a Saturday morning meet-up at the Valley of the Moon baseball field, which has been co-opted into a dog park over the years. The meet-up started out just for little dogs, she said, but eventually, bigger dogs started to come too.

Twice, Scout was tumbled and rolled, and Robinson stopped bringing her to the meet-up.

“It’s not an aggression issue, the big dogs just want to play with the little dogs,” Robinson said “(But) a friendly 80-pound dog who lands on an 8-pound dog could break a back.”

“We don’t want a whole park for ourselves,” she added. “We just want a few hours a week where our dogs can be safe.”

In seeking to divvy up big dogs and little dogs, Spoth-Torres said the municipality would be falling in line with national standards. In other cities, like Seattle, dog parks already have separate fenced-off areas for big dogs and small dogs.

But the municipality’s six off-leash dog areas simply don’t have enough space, Spoth-Torres said. Of those six, only one, the Arctic-Benson park, is surrounded by a full-scale fence.  

The Valley of the Moon off-leash area is still technically a baseball field, but it’s in the process of being formally dedicated as a park, Spoth-Torres said.

Meanwhile, the parks department is looking at creating a seventh fenced off-leash dog area in the Abbott Loop area. The goal is to distribute those spaces equally throughout the city, Spoth-Torres said.

Spoth-Torres acknowledged the time-slot arrangement is “not ideal.” If separate times were ultimately set up for big and small dogs, for example, only one group can have the prime-time slot of Saturday morning from 10 a.m. to noon.

While little-dog owners were behind the push for separate hours, some big-dog owners said they also support the idea. At the Valley of the Moon park on a recent afternoon, Katherine Lomeli stood in the grassy enclosure as her big dogs -- a pair of Siberian huskies named Apollo and Tytus -- darted around nearby.

Told about the potential for separate time slots, Lomeli said she thinks small dogs usually play fine with big dogs, and the issue comes down to owners and individual dogs.

But once, at the Arctic Benson park, a fight broke out between Apollo and a small French bugle, Lomeli said.

The bugle’s owner pulled out bear spray, which Lomeli said also hit her and other owners nearby. She and her husband stopped going to the Arctic Benson park after that. 

“We actually had a few fights with little dogs" at that park, she said.

The Animal Control Advisory Board hearing is scheduled for Aug. 14 at 6 p.m. in the Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility basement conference room, located at 3000 Arctic Blvd. 

In addition to gathering input, officials are also looking at ways to factor in service dogs and dogs that are ill or advanced in age, Epstein said.