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Off-Lead Dog Parks - Seattle, Washington USA

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A dog sits patiently, waiting for his master to throw him a ball.

Public park areas designed specifically for dogs and their owners have become increasingly popular in the United States. Most municipalities have laws specifying that pets must be on leads1 while in public. However, many communities have developed off-lead dog parks, which are fenced-in areas for dogs to romp and enjoy their freedom. Such parks are especially popular in urban areas, where most residents do not have sufficient yard space to exercise a dog. The area surrounding Seattle, Washington USA has several such parks, with more in the planning stages. Several of the off-lead parks in the Seattle area offer access to lakes and other waterways, in addition to the areas for ball-chasing, frisbee-catching and general play. The local dog advocacy group, Citizens for Off-Leash Areas (COLA) has been instrumental in the formation of these dog parks and small local groups have formed around many of the individual parks.

All sorts of people and dogs can be seen at these parks, including:

  • Professional dog-walkers, who often arrive at the off-lead parks with as many as 10 to 15 dogs in their car. While the trend for 'doggie day care' has become more popular in Seattle over recent years, many slightly less neurotic dog owners instead opt to employ a professional dog-walking service in order that their pet may be exercised during workdays.

  • Adults of all ages using their dog as a prop in their hunt for a significant other.

  • Families with children and dogs, coming to exercise their entire brood in one go.

  • Families without dogs, coming to watch everyone else's dogs in order to decide which type of dog they want for themselves.

  • People of all ages and sizes, who want a nice walk and don't mind getting a little muddy in the process.

  • People with big dogs, who feel more comfortable exercising their dog in an area where everyone can be presumed to be dog-friendly rather than phobic.

  • People with little tiny dogs, who feel more comfortable exercising their dog in an area where badly-behaved or violent dogs are quite rare.

Rules Common to Off-Lead Dog Parks

All off-lead dog parks have their rules and there are a handful that seem to be common across those in the Seattle area:

  • No violent or fighting dogs; owners are responsible for any harm caused by their dogs.
  • All dogs must wear identification tags.
  • No dogs in heat are allowed.
  • No puppies less than four months of age, or other unvaccinated dogs.
  • Everyone must clean up after their dogs; bags for this are generally provided on site.
  • Hours are generally posted, often either 'dawn to dusk' or '4.00am - 11.30pm'.

Seattle Parks and Recreation

The Seattle Parks and Recreation department offers nine different off-lead dog parks at the time of writing, all differing somewhat in size, condition, features, and amenities.

Magnuson Dog Park at Sand Point

Once a naval base at Sand Point2 has now been converted into a community-focused area that includes not only the dog park but also athletic facilities, low-income housing, school and child care facilities and a community recreation centre. The park and public athletic fields are collectively known as Magnuson Park. This off-lead dog park is the second largest in Seattle and the only one with access to the beach.

Magnuson covers about nine acres, with winding trails throughout. Most of the these are made of compact gravel, and the park is far more accessible to the disabled than most off-lead dog parks. It also offers an area near the entrance for showering mud and lake water off dogs - an excellent idea. One that's been met with less enthusiasm though, has been the fence-enclosed area specifically for small or shy dogs. Of course, not all the amenities are added solely with dogs in mind; porta-potties for human waste disposal are a new feature. Many of these additions are the result of a local group of dog advocates, who have worked with the city parks department to bring about these changes.

Off-Lead Area at Jose Rizal Park

Jose Rizal Park is in the Beacon Hill area of Seattle, south of the town centre. The off-lead area at this park is the largest in Seattle, at almost 10 acres. As with Magnuson Park, there is a local volunteer group that organises work parties to maintain the area. The overgrowth in this area can be intimidating to some smaller dogs, although some open space is also available.

Other Off-Lead Areas in Seattle Parks

Other such parks in Seattle are considerably smaller, and often less well-maintained. These include:

  • Northacres Park, which is at the far northern end of Seattle; this park is too small and wooded to be suitable for ball or frisbee throwing. It also has a very active volunteer group.

  • Golden Gardens Park, in the Ballard area, in north-western Seattle. The off-lead area here has been surfaced in wood chips. This park is often less busy than some of the other, larger parks.

  • Woodland Park near the Greenlake, Fremont, Phinney Ridge and Walingford neighbourhoods of Seattle. Although it's near Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo, the approach is from a different direction as a highway bisects the park, which sometimes confuses new visitors. The off-lead area is on a large hill. It lacks full disabled access and visitors report that while the park is fun during the summer, it's not the best place to visit during the winter months.

  • Regrade Park is the site of the newest and smallest off-lead area in Seattle. Less than a third of an acre, its main appeal is in its downtown location, in the Belltown district.

  • Blue Dog Pond is the only off-lead park in Seattle that isn't part of a larger park; instead it's part of a rain drainage area, which means it is even muddier than the others. It's located east of the town centre and sports some interesting metal sculptures, including the blue dog after which the park is named.

  • Genesee Park is also east of downtown Seattle and further south than Blue Dog Pond. About three acres in size, most of it is covered in gravel. The lack of shade has been reported as a problem for some visitors during the summer months.

  • Westcrest Park is on the southern side of West Seattle, and is more than four acres in size with a great open field for dogs to chase balls.

Off-Lead Parks in the Seattle Suburbs

There are several off-lead areas in the towns surrounding Seattle, the largest being a 40-acre area in Marymoor Park. Located in Redmond, east of Seattle and across Lake Washington, Marymoor Park is owned by the King County Park System. Just as the COLA groups maintain off-lead dog areas in Seattle proper, the Save Our Dog Areas (SODA) group does at Marymoor Park. The off-lead area here has winding trails, areas for ball and frisbee throwing, and several swimming spots. There's adequate disabled access too.

Also east of Seattle is Mercer Island, which has a small off-lead area, which is not completely fenced in, although there is beach access. North of Seattle, off-lead areas can be found in Everett, Edmonds and Snohomish; the Edmonds Marina area includes a long strip of beach and is near the Kingston ferry. Whidbey and Camano Islands, popular holiday spots in the Puget Sound north-west of Seattle, also have off-lead dog areas of their own. South of Seattle, a dog park has been developed in SeaTac at Grandview Park.

1Dog leads are known as leashes in the US.2The Sand Point area of Seattle is in the north-eastern part of the city, directly on Lake Washington.

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