Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Teens: dogs in parks, litter, and volunteerism

Speech to Grants Pass City Council, January 20, 2010.

In our last meeting, we heard a presentation from a committee of teens about their goals and vision for Grants Pass in 20 years.  One young gentleman spoke of the need for dog parks within the City, so people could allow their dogs to run safely.  He also said that we need a program to encourage people to pick up litter—that we need to make it cool to pick up trash.
I have been thinking a lot about this lately, as I walk my daughter’s dogs (one at a time on alternate days) around our neighborhood.  I feel strongly that medium to large dogs need to be able to run flat-out at least several times a week, as a matter of cardio health and to maintain their sanity—so strongly that I am willing to risk a $500 fine and impoundment of the dog for allowing one off its leash for a few minutes in the park or down by the river.
I have rules about doing so: I do it only if nobody else is present, and if anyone appears, the dog is immediately called and leashed—though I may then ask the person’s permission to let the dog run.  I also clean up after the dog, as a matter of course, and pick up trash on the streets and in the park, as a matter of community service for the violation of the ordinance—and because seeing the same trash day after day drove me nuts.
I rarely see another person; our parks are woefully underused in the early mornings.  The running of our dogs causes no trouble and leaves no mess—quite the reverse. 
If we ordain the above criteria, allowing one the privilege to allow a well-trained dog to run in public parks and open areas if one leashes it in the presence of others, and if one picks up litter and after one’s dog, we can clean up our town and make it cool to do so.  We can encourage people to train their dogs to at least come reliably when they are called.  We can get more use out of all of our parks for our dogs without setting aside large fenced areas for their exclusive use.  And we can do all this without spending any money.
In teaching a dog to come to one reliably, reliable provision of treats is far more useful than punishment for not coming.  The same applies to people.  Tying litter pickup to punishment for crime or rehabilitation doesn’t exactly make it cool or fun, and it doesn’t get your streets cleaned up anywhere but on a few main roads.   By giving dog walkers a regular treat of the privilege of allowing their dogs to run a few minutes off leash, in return for picking up trash on public property, we can make them feel good about cleaning up their neighborhoods.

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