I live downtown. I am not a dog owner, and I utilize Juneau's trail system extensively. My views regarding dog manners have been formulated mostly through my frequent walks up Basin Road, the Perseverance Trail, and the Flume, as it is during these walks that I have encountered the most dogs and their owners.
There are two key matters that have not been sufficiently addressed during the recent debate over the proposed changes to the Parks and Recreation Code.
Like other key issues that affect Juneau (the road to Skagway comes to mind), there is a "what's best for me" mindset in this town, when it should be "what's best for our community" instead. Reading through the September 2004 Dog Task Force public comments, the following remarks were made, some on multiple occasions:
I'm a responsible dog owner, and my dog has never harmed anyone.
I'm a taxpayer and a homeowner.
I've lived here for (fill in the number) years.
I moved here for personal freedoms that aren't available in the Lower 48.
I don't want restrictions on this particular trail because my dog and I use it all the time.
Notice that the pronoun "I" was used in all of the preceding statements. When formulating new regulations that will affect the quality of life for all residents, and not just dog owners, the needs of the community must be considered prior to the needs of individuals.
Dog owners must realize that the world does not revolve around them. More importantly, dog owners need to consider the thoughts and concerns of non-dog owners as it pertains to this issue by taking a more objective stance on this important topic.
It doesn't matter how long any of us have resided in Juneau because most of us remain here for similar reasons. With that in mind, we must remember to be respectful of others while pursuing our "personal freedoms."
"Competent voice control" will not work. Just because an owner calls his dog does not mean that the dog will follow the instruction. Although an owner sees that his unleashed dog is approaching a stranger on the trail, this does not mean that the owner will make an effort to control the dog.
Also, the proposed remedy of leashing dogs that act "aggressively" and "will not consistently come to you immediately upon command" implies that the owner will have a leash in his possession in order to comply. Dog owners who currently allow their dogs to walk unleashed do not carry a leash with them and this will not change with the proposed regulations.
What do I recommend? First, off-leash areas must be designated, including areas set aside exclusively to allow dogs to exercise and to socialize with other dogs. Non-dog owners need to know specifically and unambiguously where to expect unleashed pets.
Second, the regulations should reflect a clear-cut policy that leaves little gray area for personal interpretation. For example, time limitations and trail-specific rules should be avoided.
Third, dog owners need to follow the new regulations. Rules are put into place for a purpose, and it's in everyone's best interest to follow them.
Fourth, all dog owners must clean up after their pets. My mother had a saying in our house: "If you make a mess, clean it up."
Fifth, high-traffic areas need to be monitored and rules need to be enforced. Dog owners know that they can allow their pets to walk around unleashed because the harshest punishment they're going to receive is a dirty look from a passing hiker.
Sixth, and finally, leashes should be required on all dogs on a majority of trails.
I know that a resolution can be reached by looking past the labels of "dog lover" and "non-dog lover." The citizens of Juneau need to realize that the best interests of our community need to take precedence over the self-serving desires of a group of people who feel that they are above the rules.
Brian K. Laurent Jr. is a Juneau resident.