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Palo Alto should build more dog parks to provide healthy, safe environments for pets, families

Clara Fesslmeier

I remember the first time I took my dog, Charlie, on a walk to the park. I went to our elementary school, Duveneck, arriving at around 5:30 p.m. — the prime time for dogs to play. As soon as we arrived, Charlie lunged toward the pack of dogs playing on the field.

While Charlie was content, I quickly got nervous and was eager to leave as I noticed a swarm of little kids biking around and an open gate just waiting for Charlie to escape.

A few weeks later, I was back at Duveneck with Charlie. But when he sprung toward a fluffy Samoyed, chaos erupted. A bike whizzed past, and Charlie raced after the biker, who proceeded to accelerate.

Eventually, the biker stopped, along with Charlie, whose barking attracted other dogs. Although he didn’t bite the kid, the circumstances were dangerous for both of them.

Years later, this encounter is still engraved in my mind — every time I’m at Duveneck, I closely watch Charlie, ensuring he doesn’t lash out at someone else.

Before getting Charlie, the significance of dog parks and the controlled environments they provide had never crossed my mind. However, now that I’m more experienced, I realize every Palo Alto neighborhood should have a dog park, including my own.

Palo Alto has a few dog parks: Peers Park, Greer Park and others, but the Duveneck/St. Francis and Crescent Park areas have none.

Although the city has parks and schools for pets to roam, dogs need a designated place where they can socialize with each other in a safe environment.

I bring Charlie to the park instead of walking him because it is simply the healthiest option for him. According to the Oakland Veterinary Referral Services, exercise is necessary for dogs to get rid of excess energy, build muscle mass, and maintain their cardiovascular health.

Walks don’t promote these health benefits as much as they limit social interaction for dogs, and don’t provide the “play time” that is integral to their behavioral development.

Furthermore, unleashing dogs can be unsafe and even illegal in many parks. Situations similar to the one with Charlie happen almost every day, and they can lead to human injuries or hurt dogs.

When a dog injures a human, it can be marked as ‘aggressive,’ and with enough warnings, put down. If dogs had a safe place to play, however, they wouldn’t be put in situations where they could be tempted to attack others. From there, the number of injuries would significantly drop, decreasing worries

Occasionally, Animal Control Officers drive to different schools and parks, fining those who have their dogs unleashed. If Duveneck/St. Francis and Crescent Park had a dog park, dogs would legally be able to be off-leash and play with each other.

People who don’t have dogs or don’t live in this part of Palo Alto might not see the importance of dog parks, as they are expensive and frankly not aesthetic.

I understand that building dog parks on new plots of land would be costly, but there are many existing parks that have room to include a dog-specific area.

All the parks need are gates, a water fountain close to the ground and preferably some grass.

For example, Eleanor Pardee Park has a small section of grass in the back corner which would be perfect for a dog park. I rarely see people in that space; it already has grass, so gates would be the only addition.

As for the aesthetics, there are already gates surrounding the two playgrounds, and if the same gate was added around the area, it wouldn’t change the aesthetic cohesion of the park.

While dog parks are not the top priority for non-owners, the addition of one would significantly improve animal and human welfare. Considering this, the Duveneck/St. Francis and Crescent Park areas should have a dog park.

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