Release the Hounds

Dog owners and rec agencies make great strides in establishing off-leash parks for pets.

Dave Kagan doesn't consider himself a criminal. In all likelihood, neither do the thousands of other dog owners in Grand Rapids, Mich. -- many of whom have traditionally exercised their dogs off-leash at Cambridge Park, albeit in violation of the city's leash ordinance. When Grand Rapids officials began enforcing that ordinance in earnest in 2003, Kagan and other Cambridge Park regulars found themselves on the wrong side of the law. "A number of us got ticketed -- the first offense was a $20 fine, but the second was $100," says Kagan, owner of an English setter. "I got tired of looking over my shoulder. I got tired of being criminalized. That's when a group of us kicked in to do something about it."

What Kagan and a handful of fellow dog owners did was start Grand Rapids Dog Park Enthusiasts (, a community organization with the purpose, according to its web site, of helping Grand Rapids join the "ranks of progressive communities that recognize the value of dog parks in socializing our pets and strengthening our neighborhoods." In order to realize that goal, the group understood that collaboration with the Grand Rapids city government, namely the parks and recreation department, was essential.

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