DENVER— A petition to allow dogs off-leash at Denver city parks during select hours is gaining traction.
Mary Francis launched the petition “Denver off-leash Dogs” on Change.org two weeks ago.
The petition’s goal is to allow dogs off-leash at Denver city parks between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. Francis says it’s similar to a rule they have in select parks in New York City.
She was moved to launch the petition after witnessing growing tension at Highland Park between residents and pet owners who let their dogs off-leash.
"There was a woman who walked up to a group of small puppies and maced one of them in the face,” Francis said.
The goal is to get 1,000 people to sign the petition. Nearly 800 people have already signed to show their support.
“We would, of course, prefer daylight hours, but we are willing to sacrifice that so the kids can have the park in the daytime and we can still use our community resources to exercise our dogs,” Francis said.
She adds that pet owners will still be held responsible for their actions and must keep their dog under control and pick up after them, which aligns with current park regulations. She feels like this will help ease current tension at parks and create a safer environment for residents and pet owners.
Denver is home to twelve dog parks. Francis says it’s not enough to accommodate adequate exercise and socializing for the thousands of dogs that call the Mile High City home.
“Setting designated hours allows people to know who are concerned about dogs that those are the hours they don’t go to the park,” Francis said.
While playing fetch with his dog at Washington Park, Lucas Kettle said dogs need more space and freedom.
“It’s a lot easier to get a dog to socialize with other dogs especially if they are having trouble when they’re young in kind of a more natural setting,” Kettle said.
Teddy Claiborne agrees with the petition, but feels like restrictions need to be put in place to help keep people exercising at the park safe.
“If someone is biking and a dog runs in front, then they might crash, or God forbid someone gets bitten or something that’s a huge issue,” Claiborne said.
Ben Winograd is on board with allowing dogs run free after 9 p.m. but is against allowing dogs off-leash until 9 a.m. He said some people can only exercise or walk their dog early in the morning, and it could add anxiety if they’re not comfortable with other dogs.
Francis said it’s all about compromise. She points out her proposal is cheaper than building a park and is cost effective, since it relies on community resources already in place.
“There are already laws against aggressive dogs, and there are already laws against cleaning up after your dog,” Francis said. “We are not saying change those laws. Your dog still has to be under your control. You still have to be a responsible pet owner.”
If she meets her signature goals, she hopes to launch an off-leash pilot program in District 1, her home district. If it’s successful, she wants to expand the rule across Denver.
A spokesperson with Denver Parks and Recreation said they welcome all comments and evaluate all ideas. They will review the petition once they receive it, but adds that they’ve already received comments from citizens opposing the petition after reading about it online.
One comment emailed to The Denver Parks and Recreation read, in part:
“I am very opposed to this proposal. I live in District 1 with my two dogs, both of whom are dog-reactive. We have undergone years of extensive behavior training including leash skills and muzzle training in order to make sure that they can safely walk in the neighborhood.”