The sun was shining. Daffodils were dancing. Dogs were chasing Frisbees in the meadow. This was a beautiful late spring day in Juneau, but there was one thing wrong with this picture: Officially, the dogs should be on leashes on Airport Dike Trail.
"It's very rare to see dogs on leash here," said Loretta Mosley, who takes a stroll on the trail with her husband, Bob, when it is sunny. "The dogs we have met are very friendly but I am upset with some owners who don't pick up after their dogs."
Since October of 2003, a task force - composed of dog advocates, biologists and state and city officials - has been reviewing the use of Juneau's 118 state and city trails to determine whether dogs should be on leash. Right now, dogs are required to be on leash on all city-owned trails and can be off leash on most state-owned trails.
The task force was established because of the growing concerns over problems with dogs during the past few years. According to the Gastineau Humane Society, there were 76 dog bites last year, mostly by dogs off leash.
Whether dogs should be on or off leash has been an emotional issue in a town where there are only 30,000 people but more than 8,000 dogs.
After numerous meetings, the task force recently came up with a draft of its final suggestions and will have a public hearing in September.
In the task force's draft proposal, dogs will be required to be on leash on most city-owned trails. But they are allowed to be off leash on some trails, such as Kaxdigoowu Heen Dei Hiking Trail and Outer Point Loop Trail.
Dogs can be on or off leash in such areas as Anat'iyeik Park, Dimond Park and some school fields.
To avoid dogs affecting wildlife or tourism, the task force recommended that certain areas, such as Auke Lake Trail and Fish Creek Park, be dog-free.
"Our goal is not to get dogs off trail but designate areas where dogs can be off leash legally," said Kim Kiefer, parks and recreation director. "We cannot please everybody but we are trying to balance the dogs' needs, the owners' needs and the needs of other trail users."
The task force also proposed changing the restrictions on some of the most popular dog-walking places.
On Savikko Park's Sandy Beach, where dogs are allowed to be off leash now, dogs could be off leash only below logs at the high tide line and should be on leash in the picnic area and on Treadwell Mine Historic Trail.
On the Airport Dike Trail - which many call "the dog trail" in Juneau - dogs are allowed to be on leash or under voice control.
According to the humane society, "keeping a dog under voice control" means that the owner is with the dog, capable of directing the dog by vocal command and monitoring the dog's activities. And most important of all, the dog follows the vocal command quickly and accurately.
Ronald Lorensen, who likes taking his three dogs to the Airport Dike Trail because of its wide open space, said allowing dogs to be under voice control is more practical than the current regulation.
"Dogs need exercise," said Lorensen, 58. "They don't get any if they are on leash."
Chava Lee, executive director of the Gastineau Humane Society, said although the proposal is comprehensive, enforcement might be a problem. The agency only has three animal control officers patrolling the whole city.
"They work every single day of the year, 24 hours a day, but they cannot be everywhere," Lee said.
Many members on the task force said education is the key, including education to those who don't own dogs.
"Just like learning what to do when you encounter a bear, people need to learn what to do when they encounter strange dogs," said Sue Schrader, who represents the public on the task force. "You can bend over and pat the dog to let the dog know that you are friendly."
"It is important for dog owners and non-dog owners to learn to share a public trail," said Schrader, who owns a 1-year-old German Shepherd.
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