Since it was first drafted in 1973, the City of Madison’s strict dog ordinances have been revised several times to loosen the legal leash on where dogs are allowed in public spaces.
Next Wednesday, the Board of Park Commissioners will decide whether to preserve the status quo on a number of dog-free and dog-friendly parks across the city, or whether or not to add or restrict dog access. This review comes after the parks board requested community input and suggestions surrounding the proposed changes last month.
Currently, there are eleven parks up for review. Nine of these are “dog-free” areas which prohibit nearby residents from bringing their dogs there, even if they are on leash. The remaining two parks are considered “dog-friendly” areas, where owners may bring their pets so long as they are on a leash and stay on the marked paths.
The parks under consideration for a change from “dog-free” to “dog-friendly” are Brentwood, Esther Beach, Haen Family, Kingston-Onyx, Merrill Springs, Quarry Cove, Sugar Maple, Veterans Memorial, and Zook Park. The parks under consideration for a change from “dog-friendly” to “dog-free” are Forest Hill Cemetery and Hawthorne Park.
Ann Shea, Public Information Officer of the Parks Division, says that these parks were each selected based on the feedback the Parks Division received from the community. None of the parks are under consideration for being changed to “off-leash” areas.
The Parks Division undertook a number of similar efforts over the past few years. Concerns raised in previous community surveys have focused on the limited number of park options currently available to dog owners, and the liability issues with ensuring dog owners clean up after their pets, especially around playgrounds, sports fields, and other areas which receive high foot traffic.
One proposal in 2020 to add a new “off-leash” dog park on the East side of Madison failed to gain traction after public input did not provide a clear community preference for the new park’s location, or even if it should be built at all. The indecision highlighted the difficult task of coming up with a balanced solution which gives dog owners more options when it comes to walking their pets, as well as ensuring that dog-owners are educated on park rules.
If this new round of reviews does result in any changes to the status of Madison’s parks, it isn’t going to happen overnight. Shea, the Parks spokesperson, says that before any new ordinances can go into effect, new signs have to be printed letting dog owners know what changes are going into effect. This will take time.
The Board of Park Commissioners review will meet at 6:30 PM next Wednesday, in person at 1402 Wingra Creek Parkway, and will be open to the public.
Editor’s note: This story has been amended for clarity regarding feedback received by the Parks Division.