I have a confession to make: I am a scofflaw.
Several days a week I take my dog to a small, lakeside park that has in recent years become an unofficial dog park. It is an oasis of sorts, where dogs and humans peacefully coexist in violation of Seattle city ordinances that threaten fines of from $50.00 to $500.00.
Throughout much of the year this small stretch of shoreline is virtually abandoned but for the occasional dog owner exercising his companion in Lake Washington’s frigid waters. But on hot Summer days like today, the beach is usually crowded with dogs and humans joyously escaping the heat together.
Except for a small designated area at Magnuson Park, the city bars dogs not just from patrolled beaches, but from all public shoreline, ostensibly for health reasons. Let’s face it, nobody wants to lay their beach blanket down by a mound of dog poop. But ironically, my secret, neighborhood beach is not only one of the dog friendliest in the city… it is also one of the cleanest.
Visit nearly any public beach in the city and you’ll likely find yourself dodging random piles of poop left by the thousands of geese that inhabit our shorelines. Hell, forget about the fines… I wouldn’t even take my dog to one of these beaches for the
fear absolute knowledge that she would roll in the feces, cleverly masking her own distinct scent. (Um… she’s a dog.)
Our beaches can get pretty damn disgusting. As the Seattle Times notes today:
Beachgoers should not have to sit out the heat at home because of geese-polluted shorelines.
But this isn’t a concern at our little illicit dog beach. There is no goose poop because there are no geese. Our dogs make sure of that. Think of it as organic pest control.
As for the dog poop, well, most of us regulars are vigilant to the point of vigilanteism. The other day I witnessed a woman being angrily harangued for failing to pick up after her dog. When she claimed she didn’t have a bag, three of us quickly whipped out spares, and watched like hawks as sheepishly cleaned up the mess.
I’m also very mindful of dogless visitors, and usually ask permission to take my dog off-leash in their presence. I also never let my dog off-leash around small children unless they are also accompanied by a dog. Even a gentle dog can appear threatening to a child.
Us regulars all understand that we have a good thing going, and that it will only take a couple complaints before the city steps up enforcement and shuts us down. So we patrol the park ourselves, letting people know in no uncertain terms that it’s not a place for out of control dogs or careless owners. We try to follow the spirit of the ordinance if not its letter.
I’m sure there are some neighbors who would probably prefer that the leash laws were strictly enforced, but if we were to abandon this beach to the geese it would quickly become unusable. It’s one of those delicate balance things that makes city life both challenging and rewarding, and for me it is also a tiny microcosm of the natural tension between the rights of individuals and the needs of the community that dominates so much of politics.
Of course to my dog, it’s just a great place to chase a stick in the water.