BY KATY MOELLER
© 2012 Idaho Statesman
Running. Jumping. Sniffing. Tail-wagging.
Winstead Park on the Boise Bench was alive with activity before 8 a.m. Friday, as dogs chased about and raced across the grass to fetch balls and sticks.
A little more than a year ago, exercising your dog off-leash here and other city parks would have led to a hefty fine.
Boisean David Simon, who has two large poodle mixes, Copper and Piper, said hes been ticketed too many times to count. He said hes even been cited at Mountain View Park in the dead of winter, when no one else was around.
Its ridiculous, Simon said Friday morning. I pay taxes, I get my dogs licensed, and I cant walk my dogs (off leashes) in an empty park?
He can now.
After surveying city residents, the parks commission decided to try a one-year pilot program beginning in April 2011 at seven parks: Castle Hills, Cypress, Hillside, Manitou, Redwood, Sunset and Winstead. Hillside Park, which got little use, was removed from the off-leash program.
The city solicited feedback from park neighbors and other users through the year, and did another survey at the conclusion of the pilot program.
The results: Support for the off-leash program grew from 69 percent to 83 percent, while opposition fell from 31 percent to 17 percent.
The other result: Dogs can continue to roam.
Overall, I think its been successful so far. Its a new program, and were going to have to continue to watch it, said Boise Parks commissioner Louie Uranga.
Uranga said the commission has received inquiries from residents who want to see the off-leash hours expanded to other parks.
Well move slowly and hope to move correctly, he said.
As the owner of an Australian shepherd, Uranga understands when others with dogs talk about the need to let their pets run.
I need to get him out every day, he said. They often go to Military Reserve Dog Off-Leash Park, an unfenced park of natural terrain in the north part of town, or to off-leash trails in the Foothills.
Camille Thom, who lives just a couple of blocks from Winstead Park, previously had to load her yellow lab, Loma, into her car to take her for a run in the Foothills.
Its kind of a long drive from here, said Thom, one of the Boise dog owners who petitioned city officials to consider creating off-leash hours at some neighborhood parks.
Boise has about 60,000 dogs, based on estimates from a few years ago by the American Veterinary Medical Association.
STRONG ENFORCEMENT, DOG OWNERS SAY
The citys off-leash hours arent a free-for-all for dogs at the parks.
Signs are posted at each park to show where dogs may run and the hours its permitted. Owners are expected to adhere to a long list of rules, including carrying a bag or device for picking up poop.
Those who fail to carry bags or dont leash up outside the specified areas can get ticketed, and dog owners who frequent the parks say rules are rigorously enforced.
Seventy-four warnings and 276 citations were issued over the first year. And thats just for the two people dedicated to dog enforcement. Police and Idaho Humane Society animal control officers also may cite scofflaws.
Tickets are $25, but court fees of $51.50 jack up the total cost.
We have had people complain that we have people laying in wait to try to catch them, Uranga said. We have other people complain that we never monitor or regulate. Its probably somewhere in between.
Jerry Pugh, park volunteer coordinator and dog program coordinator, said most of the citations are for dogs-at-large (unleashed outside off-leash areas), failing to pick up after dogs and no license.
Four of the six off-leash areas have the same hours: sunrise to 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to sunset, year-round. To avoid conflicts with youth sports at Winstead and Sunset parks, those parks have seasonally adjusted hours.
SOME CHALLENGES, BONUS BENEFITS
The biggest concern about the off-leash areas is dog waste thats not picked up.
Bags are available at park dispensers to help with compliance, but piles happen. Responsible dog owners often try to pick up the extra, Thom said.
We know this is really a privilege, she said.
None of the parks has fencing to separate the off-leash areas, so theres some concern about dogs straying out of the specified zones. Those who cant control their dogs by voice command are advised to go to one of the citys three designated dog parks, which have fences or natural barriers.
There are no plans to put up any new fencing at the off-leash areas, Uranga said. He said there are several reasons for that, including aesthetics, costs and other park uses that would wind up being restricted.
Friendships have developed among owners who take advantage of off-leash hours.
You get to know all your neighbors and their dogs, Thom said. Its really nice.
Linda Yursis said her vizsla mix, Taylor, loves to come to Winstead to play fetch. She and a friend, Janice Davis, took their chances by letting their dogs play untethered before the off-leash hours were created. Theyre thankful to be able to use the neighborhood park a couple hours a day during the summer.
We were always looking over our shoulders, Yursis said. Im just glad weve got what weve got.
Katy Moeller: 377-6413