GRANGEVILLE — Dogs in city parks? The signs say no, but owners and their dogs are there, regardless.
So, does the city get rid of the law and open parks up for legal dog use, or keep the law and accept that enforcement is largely problematic? The Grangeville City Council hit the problems and frustrations of the municipal ordinance at its Feb. 1 meeting. No decision was reached as the council looks to gather public comment on the rule prior to re-visiting the issue in a March meeting. Comments can be made to city councilors, or a public poll is available through the city’s Facebook page.
At issue is the rule under Title 6-2-3 that states it is unlawful for any owner/harborer to allow any dog or other animal to be within or upon city parks (Pioneer, Grangeville, Jaycee [Soroptimist], which is a misdemeanor. The only exception is the east side of Lions Park, which was approved for use with dogs in 2015.
That the rule is generally ignored was not a surprise to the council.
“If we were to enforce it, it would need an officer stationed at the park all day, every day,” said councilor Amy Farris. “For example, this afternoon, a lady gets out of her car at Schwab’s with her dog and stands by the sign that says no dogs in the park while her dog did his business. I don’t know how you’re going to enforce it. Every single day on my way to work, on my lunch break, on my way home, someone is in the park with their dogs.”
“It’s ridiculous to have one if no one is going to enforce it,” said councilor Beryl Grant. On enforcement, council discussion noted city police are already busy handling more important calls than to go after dogs in the parks. Mayor Wes Lester, later noting if the council wanted enforcement, this would require a full-time animal control/ordinance officer, but “Unless you’re going to get $50-$60 thousand a year in fines, I don’t know where you’re going to get the money [for this position.]”
“If we’re not going to enforce it, get rid of it,” said councilor Dylan Canaday, “because we can’t pick and choose what we’re going to enforce.”
The issue recently surfaced last month when resident Bob Beckman sought council permission to have a camel in Pioneer Park as a kids’ activity during Border Days this year. He noted that at last year’s event, he saw 25 dogs in the park, one of which was brought by a vendor and was not friendly. Mayor Lester, playing devil’s advocate, said where parks opened to dog use, you will have people, “who are not animal lovers to begin with,” taking issue with dogs now being around at summer park concerts and where children are running around.
“It doesn’t stop them from doing it anyway,” Farris said. “People still bring dogs to the park, regardless.”
“Why not leave it the way it is?” questioned councilor Scott Winkler. “People who want to honor the law will follow the law, and people who will break the law will break the law.” This was later echoed by councilor Michael Peterson: “Just leave the signs up. If we catch them we catch them, if we don’t, we don’t.”
“I’d like to see one caught,” Grant said.
“I hate having an ordinance that if we’re not going to make it work, why have them?” Lester said.
Police chief Joe Newman agreed that “if you’re not going to enforce it or can’t enforce it, I don’t think it’s a good idea to have the ordinance.” He suggested for compliance to have public education on dog use at the parks, such as cleaning up after them, so users know to be responsible to preserve that ability.
In addressing the issue, city attorney Adam Green took a philosophical approach to how the city should view this law.
“There are people who aren’t going to rob because robbing is wrong, and people who rob who don’t get caught, but that doesn’t mean you should make it OK because you can’t catch every robber,” Green said. “I think of the dog thing in the same sense.” He noted not every law can be enforced 24 hours a day, and the same would apply to this one. Not every violator is going to be caught, but having the law provides the city a tool for an obnoxious situation or person who, for example, is allowing their dog to defecate in the park every day.
“You need to decide whether you want dogs in the park or not,” he said. “If you are OK with dogs in the park, get rid of the law. If you don’t want dogs in the park, you have a law on no dogs in the park, and you can enforce it how you can, when you can.”