By J. PATRICK PEPPER
DEARBORN — A public hearing on whether the city should amend an ordinance prohibiting dogs from public parks turned into a heated debate last week as proponents and critics traded verbal jabs for an hour and half at the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center.
Under consideration is whether the ordinance should be changed to allow leashed dogs into some or all of the city’s 43 public parks.
About 20 people attended the Tuesday evening meeting, and the group was evenly, passionately split on the issue. Outbreaks of applause followed nearly every person’s comments, with the opposing sides clapping after like-minded residents stated their case.
Opponents argued that allowing dogs into the park could pose safety and sanitary risks to people. Levagood-area resident George Mitchell, who said his son once suffered a dog bite, cited a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlining the types of bacteria often found in dog feces.
“This poses a legitimate threat to children who are likely to be playing in that grass. Even if the owners clean up after their dogs – and we all know that not everyone does – that bacteria can remain there long after the feces is gone,” Mitchell said.
His wife, Anne, also questioned where liability would fall if a dog got loose and bit someone.
“I hope the city of Dearborn is ready for some lawsuits,” she said.
On the other side of the argument, advocates for the initiative said the ordinance is unfair to responsible dog owners. Susan Krause, who lives on Mildred, said she regularly takes her 2-year-old standard poodle to Levagood for acrobatics training and never has encountered any problems with her dog. The relatively small size of Dearborn backyards makes it impossible to conduct the training at home, she said. Krause also questioned what makes Dearborn any different from the numerous cities across the country that do allow dogs in public parks.
“If it works in Phoenix (Arizona), why can’t it work in Dearborn?” Krause asked. “It would be wonderful if we were no longer scofflaws and could use the parks legally with our dogs.”
Several proponents also argued that, as taxpayers, they should be allowed to use the parks with their dogs just like parents are allowed to with their children. The notion was quickly dispelled, though.
“We can’t condition the making of rules on the fact that we pay taxes,” said Gene Smith, chairman of the subcommittee considering the idea.
One thing that pretty much everyone agreed on was that the current ordinance is not heavily enforced.
“The theory at this point is at least to keep the dogs out of the parks, not issue tickets,” said Smith. However, he said that if the initiative did come to pass, fines of up to $500 would be issued regularly for violations such as unleashed dogs or not picking up waste.
The matter was expected to go before the entire Recreation Commission at its Tuesday meeting this week. Members were expected to delve into the finer points of the idea and hash out what, if any, recommendation should be made.
The final decision on whether or not to issue a recommendation will come at the next commission meeting on Sept. 8. Any recommendation ultimately must be accepted or rejected by the City Council.
By J. PATRICK PEPPER