Prairie Lights: A perfectly bad fix for a nonexistent problem

Mixed

Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

At Pioneer Park, mixed messages for the pet-owning public.

A couple of weeks ago, I was walking my dogs through the downtown skate park and I had just cleaned up after one of them.

A city parks worker, who was there to empty the trash bins, saw me picking up after my dog and went out of his way to thank me. As a token of his thanks, I guess, he also handed me a couple of dog-waste bags.

At the time I considered it a pleasant exchange, one that made me feel good about city government.

Ed

Ed Kemmick

I realize now that I was completely wrong. I had been, in fact, a lawbreaking miscreant, and the city worker was a scofflaw, not only failing to report several crimes but rewarding the perpetrator of those crimes.

I came to that realization after reading the story about the City Council decision not to change city law and allow leashed dogs in developed city parks until the number of licensed dogs and cats in the city rose from roughly 5,000 to 10,000.

A subsequent story pointed out that city residents are required to license their pets—$7.50 a year for spayed and neutered pets, $30 for unaltered critters—and that the fine for failing to do so is $110.

So I was breaking the law three times that day by walking two unlicensed dogs across the skate park lawn. The parks department worker, seeing me engaged in a criminal activity, could have demanded to see the dogs’ licenses, and then called the cops after my status as a latter-day Al Capone was confirmed.

Fortunately for me, he was a community-minded gent who saw no harm in my actions, and who appreciated my small effort to keep the skate park clean.

City employees and we citizens could have gone on ignoring a dumb law, but the City Council, seeking to fix a non-problem, has come up with a “solution” that is unnecessary, expensive and annoying.

The simple solution would have been to make a legal activity of what so many people are doing now anyway—walking their dogs through the parks, since it never occurs to most people that such a thing would be prohibited.

But no. The City Council wants to strong-arm another 5,000 pet owners into buying licenses, put up new signs explaining city policy, install waste-bag dispensaries in city parks, mount a public-education campaign and hire a park ranger to enforce the new law.

Where’s the Tea Party when you actually need it? This is blatant government overreach, an attempt to raise more money so government can get a little bigger, with no discernible benefit to the public.

I think most people honestly believed, before all the recent publicity, that you could stroll through the park with your dog. (Let’s just forget cats for a moment; in almost three decades in this town I think I’ve seen a leashed cat twice.)

Likewise, I think almost every dog owner knows you need to pick up after your pet and that dogs should be leashed in public, which means a public education campaign would serve little purpose.

The park workers we have now could politely remind people they need to pick up after their dogs—or even not so politely. Once, when I was playing tennis at Pioneer Park, a gent walked over from a nearby house and let his dog do his business on the park lawn.

Suddenly, one of the park irrigators in a four-wheel cart came racing over to the scene. He jumped out of the cart before it had come to a complete stop and began berating the dog owner in a loud, angry voice. He said he’d seen the guy walk his dog to the park on numerous occasions and then stroll home without picking up the doggy doo.

The irrigator had never been close enough to shame the dog owner in the act, apparently, but this time he was, and the dog owner, knowing he had nothing to say in his own defense, hung his head and remained silent, then slunk home looking guilty.

Why not just train all parks workers in similar shaming techniques, rather than hiring someone to drum up more revenue for unneeded programs? Better yet, why not institutionalize the reward system I experienced at the hands of one admirable employee?

That leaves only the question of licensing one’s pets. I covered city government for many years and I don’t recall ever being told or having heard that pet licensing was mandatory. I thought it was something people did for peace of mind, in case their dogs got lost.

Even then, though, I didn’t understand why a simple tag with the owner’s address or phone number wouldn’t serve just as well. I get it now—that we should license our pets to adequately fund the animal control division and the animal shelter, which does so much good work.

So I will license my dogs, I promise. But I hope the City Council doesn’t make things worse in an effort to repeal a bad law.

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