I am part of a group of citizens of many different backgrounds, all sharing a common interest. Dog Walkers of Robert E. Lee Park have enjoyed off-leash walking and jogging with our beloved dogs for more than 30 years.
Sadly, this activity has been unceremoniously forbidden since the renovation of Robert E. Lee Park. Otherwise law-abiding citizens have been recently hounded (pardon the pun) by a newly hired team of park rangers, police and animal control officers, issuing fines for our actions.
The park has been newly restored with $6 million in taxpayer money. The major players in getting the park renovated are members of the Robert E. Lee Park Nature Council, many of whom own land near the park.
We fully approve of leashed walking in the newly restored pavilion areas. But we contest our inability to off leash walk or jog in the back and grossly underutilized trails. The council has turned a deaf ear to our compromise offers; its answer is a newly constructed 1-acre fenced area called Paw Point. While this may serve the needs of some dog owners, it does not serve the needs of others.
The problems with the Paw Point "solution" are many. When an owner goes to Paw Point it becomes a non-energetic "dog stand" vs "dog walk" for the human — unless one fancies walking in endless circles around the fenced circumference. Larger, more energetic dogs frighten smaller dogs within its relatively small confines. Some dogs are more solitary and do not enjoy others dogs "in their face." Baltimore County allows three dogs per owner, but Paw Point permits only two. Moreover, the facility is located up a steep hill, flouting Maryland disability rights law.
Our group was formed shortly before the reopening of the park to ensure our continued use of the northern section of the park for morning hikes with our off-leash dogs. Proposals were submitted to the council, taking care to acknowledge the law and all competing interests for use of the park. The council's answer? Simply, "No." It was not open to any negotiations. No public debate, no discussions of any sort.
The council's main argument is that a Baltimore County law requires dogs be leashed on public lands. But obviously, there are exceptions — such as Paw Point. And other areas of the law, such as the requirement for handicap access, have been overlooked. And while we're at it, how did Hollins Avenue, until recently, an always public through street, suddenly become blocked off with barricades that dead-end it, blocking a park entrance? Several members of the Council Board just happen to live on this street.
Dead-ending with the Nature Council, our group then met with Councilwoman Vicki Almond, who insisted that she cannot ask the Nature Council to work out any agreement. Seems odd. The Nature Council reports to the Department of Recreation and Parks, which reports to the County Council — so who is in charge?
There is no valid reason for not having a real off-leash dog walking program in the park. Off-leash dog walking has become a national issue, with countless articles and many books published about this subject. It is here in Maryland. It will not go away simply because we have been told to go away. Many other areas have reached a fair compromise on this issue, so why can't we?
When the desires of a group of citizens through a public vetting process and are denied, one may be understandably disappointed. But when those desires are flatly rejected without the appropriate public forum, where does one go?
Maris Baker lives in Baltimore County with her three Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.