Olympia targets dog owners with pro-leash campaign

John O’Brien insist his dogs are trained to stay close, so he sees no problem with letting his schnauzer, Buster, and miniature poodle, Mickey, off leash for their daily walk through Mission Creek Nature Park in northeast Olympia.

Not everyone sees it that way.

“I get a few sourpusses,” he said at the start of Monday’s walk.

Dog owners like O’Brien are the target of a campaign by the city’s parks department. For the past month, signs have greeted visitors to Mission Creek stressing the importance of keeping dogs on a leash — they could wander off the trail or spook other dogs — and park rangers have made daily patrols.

“If we get multiple complaints or if a serious incident happens, this is another tool we can use,” said Amy Stull, parks stewardship supervisor for the city’s parks department.

The campaign started at Mission Creek following complaints there. This week, the campaign shifted to Priest Point Park, and Stull said Watershed Park could be next.

City code says owners are in violation of parks policy if a pet “is not on a leash by a person who is able to maintain physical control, or proper safeguards have not been taken to protect the public and property from injury or damage from said animal. …” The exception is Grass Lake Nature Park, where pets are not permitted at all.

O’Brien suggested his voice commands are enough to satisfy the requirement, but Stull said no, that means on a leash.

Penalties include fines of up to $250 for repeat offenders or trespass from a park. Stull said rangers are not out to punish people but to inform them of the rules.

The case for keeping dogs on a leash could get easier if the city opens off-leash dog parks.

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In March, it announced plans to open three such parks, though the discovery of a wetland at one site slowed things down. The plan is to open all three at once to avoid overuse of any one park.

In a survey by the city on the proposal, 96 percent of respondents said the city could benefit from an off-leash dog area, while the vast majority of dog owners said their preferred way to exercise their dogs is off leash.