The University Record, June 4, 2001

Program aims to get area pet owners to leash their dogs

By Lesley C. Harding
News and Information Services

Bill and Linda Woodland walk their dog, Kuma, through Nichols Arboretum on a recent evening. The Woodlands say they live near the Arboretum and take two walks a day through it. (Photo by Bill Wood, U-M Photo Services)
If you’re taking your dog for a walk in an Ann Arbor park, better grab a leash. The University and the city of Ann Arbor have joined forces this year to educate pet owners on the environmental damage that free-roaming dogs can cause and also help owners understand how loose dogs can impact other park visitors. Bob Grese, director of the Nichols Arboretum, says, “It’s a huge dilemma because many people walk their dogs in the Arb and other city parks, and we want them to continue. We just want them to do it smartly.”

To help educate pet owners, the city has developed a fact card listing “The Top Five Reasons to Leash Your Dog in Our Parks and Nature Areas and Remove Its Waste.” The five reasons are:

  • Wildlife may not survive an encounter with a free-roaming dog. Even a friendly and obedient dog may destroy the homes of ground-nesting birds or stress small mammals.

  • Keeping dogs on leashes and on designated trails in natural areas helps prevent erosion and destruction of plants.

  • Many park visitors are frightened or uncomfortable when they encounter free-roaming dogs.

  • Dog feces are an unpleasant experience for park visitors, and they disrupt the natural balance of the ecosystem by adding excess nutrients to the environment.

  • It’s the law. Fines begin at $50 for first offenses.

    In addition to the fact cards, the city’s education campaign has included “Woodcock Week.” This series of nature walks focused on the unusual American woodcock, “one of the ground-nesting birds that could be easily disturbed by free-roaming dogs,” says Nancy Novitski, special projects coordinator for the Ann Arbor Parks Department’s Natural Area Preservation Division. The Parks Department also intends to improve the posting of signs about keeping dogs on leashes in city parks. And the city’s animal control officers are working with the Parks Department to increase enforcement in parks.

    With the big push for awareness, Grese says, “we want to work together with the community to solve this problem so that everyone can enjoy the parks and gain respect for wildlife, the environment and other park users. The goal isn’t to close the Arb to dogs, but to make it easier for people to walk their dogs there with respect to the law.”

    In fact, the Arboretum has a new attraction for dogs this spring. Two U-M graduates who walk their dog frequently in the Arboretum donated money to install a drinking fountain for dogs right next to one for humans.