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City explores creating off-leash dog park

"On a recent afternoon, Northeast Tacoma resident Inge Grayson takes Venus the Doberman pinscher and Ellie the greyhound for a romp around French Lake Park.She holds a chew toy and two leashes. Unencumbered, Venus and Ellie sniff at trees and amble over the sloping hills and around the ponds found in the 10-acre park. Unlike other city parks, this one features no walking trails and only a single piece of playground equipment, a seat on which kids bounce. That lack of traditional amenities, Grayson says, makes it ideal for something the city lacks - an off-leash dog park. The fact that all that wide, open space is enclosed by a 6-foot-high fence makes it even better. It's not being used by joggers. There's no jogging area, she said. It's very empty. It's just about fenced in except for the front gate. I think that's ideal for people otherwise afraid the dogs may run into the street. We're not taking away from joggers or sporting fields. It's mainly some ponds and grass.Grayson and other dog owners want the city to add dogs to the mix. Those for and against the idea of an off-leash dog park in Federal Way will be able to voice their opinion at a Park and Recreation Commission meeting at 7 p.m. on Oct. 10.Various Federal Way dog lovers at one time or another have rallied for an off-leash park. The Parks and Recreation Commission, made up of citizens, put the issue on its 2000 work plan, said Jon Jainga, the city's park planning and development manager.It's one of those subjects that has some interest for a while, it dies down, it has some interest, it dies down, Jainga said. We're saying let's find out once and for all does the community support a dog park.Jainga will compile the results from an on-line survey asking about an off-leash park and present those to the commission at the upcoming meeting. Of the surveys he's reviewed, all expressed support for the idea, he said. Although several respondents have mentioned French Lake Park, which many say is already being used predominately by dog owners as an unofficial off-leash park, Jainga said he plans to study all the city's parks as possible sites.Supporters who turn their dogs loose in French Lake Park now agree the park may not work in the long term, mainly because of parking. The 20 existing stalls could easily be filled, if the success of Marymoor Park in Redmond is any indication, Grayson says. Federal Way resident Jill Alverson, who led an effort a couple years ago for an off-leash park, agrees.There really isn't enough parking, Alverson said. We thought it might be a good starting off point so the city could see how popular it was.Jainga said he'll talk with representatives of other Puget Sound dog parks, including the popular Marymoor Park, to learn if dog owners are good about cleaning up after their dogs. Other considerations include fencing and whether the grass would be worn away in a fenced-off area, turning the dog park into one big, muddy field in winter, Jainga said.I want to look at every site to see what really compatible, what makes sense, he said.Off-leash dog park supporters say the idea itself makes plenty of sense. The city doesn't allow dogs to be without leashes in city parks. Several blue signs at French Lake show a dog and owner connected by a leash. But dog owners routinely disobey the law, supporters say.Federal Way resident Jennifer Lynham loves taking her retriever, Jewels, to French Lake Park and letting her loose. She's been warned by a King County Animal Control officer twice about letting Jewels loose but continues to regularly do it.It's almost like when you play that slow motion, cheesy music in your head, you see her ears are flapping, just seeing a dog in her pure happiness, Lynham said.Lynham supports making French Lake officially an off-leash park. The city would need to provide garbage cans and poop pick-up bags, but based on her experience at other parks, dog messes shouldn't be an issue because owners police themselves. When somebody's dog makes a mess or acts up, everyone looks at them and says, 'Uh,' ... Lynham said, clearing her throat. If you don't have an off-leash area and someone's dog is doing its business, you just stand there and get angry.Alverson says she frequently takes her part mastiff, part Rhodesian Ridgeback, Harley, to Marymoor Park and also took her terrier, Jack, before he died. Big or small, the dogs romped happily together with no problems, she says.While the dogs played, their owners bonded, similar to how parents bond while watching their children interact at a playground. Some elderly people visit the park and watch the dogs even though they don't own any themselves, Alverson said.She said she believes that's because of the joy the dogs convey. It's like your children being shut in their room for a day, she said, and going out to play.-----------------Have your say The city is asking residents to complete a survey on the off-leash dog park issue. Among other things, the survey asks respondents how many dogs they have, if they're in favor of an off-leash park and whether they would commit to cleaning up after their dog if the city created such a park. People can complete the short survey by going to the city's website (www.cityoffederalway.com) and clicking on off-leash dog park questionnaire. Jon Jainga, the city's park planning and development manager, will compile the results and offer them to the members of the Parks and Recreation Commission at 7 p.m. on Oct. 10. The commissioners also will be taking public comment to gauge interest in the development of an off-leash dog park in the city. The meeting will be in Council Chambers at City Hall, 33530 First Way S. For more information, call Jainga at 661-4043. "

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