Today's Letters: Dog owners are taxpayers, too

Published August 23, 2007

Re: Dog park boondoggle or city's good move? Diane Steinle column, Aug. 21

The Clearwater area is very fortunate to have such a nice area with wonderful beaches, soccer fields, baseball fields, nature preserves, playgrounds, a Frisbee course, handball and basketball courts in addition to an great bike trail system. There is literally something for everyone. Why not include a place for dogs and their owners too?

It's only fair. Dog owners are taxpayers, too.

Additionally, dog parks are enjoyed by more than just dog owners. The last time I visited Crest Lake Park (where the city's existing dog park is located), I saw a bus from a local retirement center drop off senior residents so they could enjoy visiting with and watching dogs frolic.

Where else can one find free entertainment in a parklike area with clean, fresh air and creatures that provide unlimited, unprejudiced friendliness?

Dogs cannot be expected to live their lives never leaving their yard - it is against their nature. You would go crazy, too, if you were kept in solitary confinement.

A dog park gives me a place to exercise my dogs without offending my neighbors. It is likely that there are fewer dogs turned in to shelters because people who frequent dog parks share information and helpful behavioral advice, not to mention that a tired dog is a good dog.

As for the financial aspect, the state of Florida provided a grant for half the $400,000 cost of the proposed dog park, so only $200,000 comes directly out of the Clearwater coffers. That is really a small amount in the grand scheme of things - less than the cost of an average residence in this area.

The clearing of the land where the park is being built is an improvement that will retain value regardless of whether or not the property remains a dog park in the future.

With half of the work being funded by the state, how could Clearwater lose?

This new 9-acre dog park is a wonderful thing for Clearwater. I just hope that people use the dog park responsibly and follow the rules so that everyone can enjoy it for a long time to come.

Paula Harshberger, Safety Harbor

Re: Dog park boondoggle or city's good move? Diane Steinle column, Aug. 21

Grant shows lack of common sense

The taxpayers have to think the people in Tallahassee have lost their minds! The state of Florida is giving Clearwater a $200,000 grant for a dog park and the Clearwater officials think it's wonderful, when in fact another $200,000 will have come from the Clearwater taxpayers at the same time the city is cutting its budget!

I seem to remember that the Legislature is calling a special session next month to address a $1.5-billion shortfall in revenues because of lagging sales tax revenues. I wonder if the county and city officials can comprehend that this translates into less sales tax revenue for the cities and county as well as less Penny for Pinellas money. This revenue shortfall is in addition to the tax rollback that the cities are wringing their hands about while predicting dire consequences!

If the taxpayers think a dog park is ridiculous, the city of Dunedin is asking for a grant to buy more waterfront park space when it currently has nearly twice as much parkland as set forth in its own planning document. If one looks at additional parkland adjacent to Dunedin (including school property), the city has nearly seven times as much parkland as necessary! Anybody going to question their lack of sound judgment?

You'll notice that there has been no mention, in any of these projects, regarding the long- range cost of operating and maintaining these facilities while at the same time they're so worried about maintaining the current facilities!

Is somebody nuts or what? It just points out the total lack of any management capability and financial accountability, which seems to be inherent in the public sector, not to mention a total lack of common sense.

Jim Harpham, Palm Harbor

Re: Dog park boondoggle or city's good move? Diane Steinle column, Aug. 21

Numbers support more dog parks

Dog parks reduce the burden of government, and not only for dog owners:

- Studies demonstrate reduced use of health, mental health and social services among pet owners, especially in demographic segments likely lacking a private yard.

- In parks, law enforcement significantly depends on a public presence, and almost always, the greatest number of "police-extenders" present anywhere in a park will be dog owners.

- Dog parks aggregate dogs for efficient enforcement of tag and animal cruelty provisions (I have personally witnessed the break-up of two dogfighting rings).

- Dogs create sanitation issues, but dog parks focalize this, and peer pressure ensures that scat is bagged (with nearly religious zealotry).

- The segregation of dogs and their handlers reduces the annoyance and actual injury rates associated with "walking the dog" on pedestrian byways, and canine socialization and exercise make a dog park dog less likely to be noxious to neighbors. (Ask any user about barking and other behaviors on days when a visit to the park is precluded).

Consider the relative uses of parks and their placement. About 51-million Americans bird watch, 35-million ride bikes, 26-million skateboard or rollerblade, but 73-million play with their dogs. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, documenting the limited and largely sedentary use of parks, found that walking was the main reason for going to a park, and dogs must be walked. The Rand Corporation found a whopping 81 percent of park visitors live within a mile of the park. Such findings support more dog parks, if only to serve dog owners.

The burden of government could be further reduced if park directors more carefully observed the actual use of the dog park section and took this into account in planning. Besides bag dispensers and waste receptacles, take note of the following dollar savers/makers:

- The "footprint" of most dog parks could be at least halved. Any unshaded acreage goes unused and even the most athletic dogs prefer circles to linear runs.

- Segregation, if indicated at all, should be behavioral (social vs. less social), as animal size is immaterial.

- A standpipe, hose, nozzle, plastic bucket and some pea gravel are actually more sanitary and useful than the fancier and more expensive provisions for watering and bathing dogs that one sees.

- People need seating, aggregated, perhaps for a dozen at a time, but benches are like sofas (no one takes the middle seat and any sofa removed from the "conversation pit" goes unused).

- Dog park visitors would like to do more to help maintain the parks, but this resource is seldom tapped. Moreover, I know what I spend in gasoline getting to the dog park; you can be sure I would not be the only dog owner willing to pay a tag fee to have one closer (or better).

J. Patrick Byrne, Largo

Re: Dog park boondoggle or city's good move? Diane Steinle column, Aug. 21

Keeping green more important

As a resident with two dogs living within 1,000 feet of the proposed new dog park in north Clearwater, I must protest the destruction of yet another 20 acres of mostly pristine wetlands and dense woods in Pinellas County. The city did not inform the residents living next to this area of plans to build or give us a chance to voice our opinions one way or another.

Most of the people here would object to destroying more land and potentially putting people and dogs in danger, since there are many alligators and snakes living in the wetlands there and the woods serve as a noise barrier to Enterprise Road. They have already defoliated some of this land, leaving what was a beautiful, green, wooded area a brown, ugly, dead and barren wasteland.

Can't we keep some green in Pinellas County?

Surely we can find some other good use for $200,000 and let the state keep its $200,000 matching donation for some other project to benefit the taxpayers.

Don Sutton, Clearwater

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