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Board discusses allowing dogs without leashes in parks

By Kevin Boneske
Staff Writer

ASHWAUBENON – The results are in on an online survey taken this fall of village residents to gauge interest as to whether Ashwaubenon should have its own dog park.

The results of the survey, which ran through Nov. 14, were presented Tuesday, Nov. 20, before the village‘s parks and recreation board by Rex Mehlberg, director of parks, recreation and forestry.

Mehlberg noted the survey generated 97 responses with 79.4 percent being dog owners.

Of the 78 responses related to whether the survey respondents take their dogs to a dog park monthly or more, Mehlberg reported 59 percent said they do and 41 percent said they don’t.

Of the 59 percent (46 responses) indicating they go to a dog park, Mehlberg said the parks they go to include: the Brown County Dog Park, 67.4 percent (31); Laura and Peter Mossakowski Family Dog Park in Bellevue, 32.6 percent (15); De Pere Dog Park, 26.1 percent (12); Howard Dog Park, 26.1 percent (12); and Whitney Park in Green Bay, 13 percent (6).

As for the question about whether the 97 survey respondents see a need for a dog park in Ashwaubenon, Mehlberg noted close to the same number of those who own a dog, 81.4 percent, said yes.

When those survey respondents were asked whether they favored taking space from/in a current park and turning that into a dog park area, Mehlberg said 70.1 percent said yes, and 75.3 percent said they would use the dog park if one were built.

Mehlberg said the site preferred for a dog park was “all over the map.”

“Basically, it’s whatever area the people live in who filled out the survey,” he said. “They’d like to be able to walk to the dog park.”

In response to Mehlberg’s question to the board, “Where do we go from here?’ board members favored getting additional information related to allowing dogs in parks without a leash, such as whether the village would be liable if a dog bit someone.

Mehlberg said the issue of liability is one he would be referring to Village Attorney Tony Wachewicz.

“We can, I guess, take a closer look at actually having a dog park in the village,” he said. “There’s also the opportunity to open up or relax some current rules that we have for our current parks.”

Currently, the village allows dogs in parks on a “pass-through” basis.

Dogs must be on leashes no longer than 8 feet with the owners in control.

In addition, Mehlberg noted passes are given out in the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department office for those who would like to run their dogs off-leash in Ashwaubomay Park and Fort Howard Park, where dogs running around without a leash could control geese at the two parks by scaring them away.

“We just ask… don’t run your dog off-leash when there’s a lot of people around that don’t also have their dogs with them… because not everyone’s a dog lover,” he said. “That really opens up a good part of the day where people can bring their dogs to those two facilities.”

Though how dog parks operate is “all over the map” related to whether to charge fees, etc., Mehlberg said those parks have been all started or run by dog park organizations.

“Like Brown County, their funding is raised by the Brown County Dog Park Association,” he said. “The De Pere Dog Park, initial funding, over $50,000, was raised by a grassroots organization that formed, the De Pere Dog Park Association.”

In the 13 years he has worked for the village, Mehlberg said only about two or three people have asked him about opening a dog park in Ashwaubenon.

“I’m not against a dog park, but I kind of like what we already have – two facilities that we allow animals to run in,” he said. “Maybe we need to advertise that a little bit more, so the public is aware of that and takes advantage of that.”

Trustee Mark Williams, who chairs the parks and recreation board, said having a dog park in the village could be “a feather in our hat” as another type of facility in Ashwaubenon.

“Maybe the only answer we need is just open it up to more dogs in the park, instead of restraining it from a leash of six foot or so,” Williams said. “I don’t know. I don’t know what the answer is.”

Trustee Chris Zirbel said he would be against spending tax dollars on a dog park when the village is already cutting money for playground equipment.

“The idea of making the public a little more aware what their availability is now (for having dogs run off-leash), maybe that’s the direction we go first,” Zirbel said.

Mehlberg said places where dog parks exist have regulations, such as requiring shots for the dogs, not allowing puppies, etc.

“Those are standard dog park rules from one park to another of what’s being done,” he said. “Then there’s signs posted about.”

Board members agreed to hold off on taking action related to a dog park or allowing dogs to run off-leash in village parks until receiving a legal opinion on liability from Wachewicz.

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