I overheard two moms talking the other day about summer sports camps. One was planning to put her kids into a county-sponsored rec program, and the other hadn't committed yet. The reason? The fields her kids had played on the previous summer were also heavily used by dog owners. "It's not just the poop," said the mom, "it's the fact that the place just stinks."
And so we come to the great dilemma that polarizes communities: to allow dog use or not. Disclosure: I'm the owner of three great dogs, all rescues. I have nothing against dogs, nothing against exercising dogs and certainly nothing against dog owners. But I'm also an athlete who uses fields and I'm a technical writer on issues related to sports facilities, and I can tell you that dogs are very hard on fields, even if their owners clean up the, uh, solid matter.
On the other side of the invisible fence, we have the people who believe it's the right of all dogs everywhere to get regular exercise wherever they (the owners and their dogs) see fit. I'm down with dogs getting regular exercise. I do have a problem with them doing it on the field where I'm about to play Frisbee or volleyball or softball.
Dog owners need to be encouraged to work with local officials to establish their own fenced-in dog parks. Not just hours where dogs can run off-leash in regular parks, and not just unfenced dog-specific areas, since it's been my experience that not all dogs are terribly observant about borders. The sad truth: When dogs are allowed in, athletic facilities suffer.
At the newspaper where I work, several communities have worked to establish dog parks, and I've learned there is nothing that causes louder shouting matches than the question of whether, where and why there should be a dog park. If it weren't so serious, it would be amusing, since there are hot-button political issues that don't generate this level of interest. But once established, the dog parks get great use, and the dog owners become stewards for them.
I can't tell you when or where you need a dog park. But I can tell you that unless you can train your users to keep their dogs on leashes and out of your field, that field will lose every time.