The (Dog) Shit Hits the Fan

Public demands say in Foothills dog plan


Public outcry over a proposed expansion of leash laws in the Boise Foothills has forced the City of Boise's Foothill Preservation Advisory Committee to scramble for a new plan, while the City Council wants nothing to do with it.

"It's staying [with the committee] until we get better consensus," said Dave Eberle, Council President.

"It is clear that there is a whole lot of education and further discussion and analysis needed given the amount of response," he said. "It's clear to me that more work needs to be done."

Still, Eberle expects there will be some kind of new regulations.

"We need a change in policy," he said. "Clearly we need to up the education and, hopefully avoid the enforcement of ordinances we already have on the books."

Council Member Maryanne Jordan said she's open to some kind of change in the future, but wants the committee to work more with the public before the Council takes up the issue.

"The perception is that this is coming out of nowhere and is pretty heavy-handed," Jordan said. "Let [the committee] go back and regroup."

Council Member Vern Bisterfeldt has supported community dog parks in the past, but the continuing problem is finding funding. Bisterfeldt said he likes the idea of a user fee to support a dog park, placing the burden on people who actually use the facility.

"It's something that, with more people, we're going to have to look at," he said.

Rather than create new regulations, Council Member Elaine Clegg said the city should focus on enforcing the regulations already on the books, including keeping dogs on leashes at trailheads and picking up after them.

"We need to enforce what we've got," she said.

Council Member Jim Tibbs said it was too early to comment. He said he hopes the issue never reaches the Council.

Boise Mayor Dave Bieter declined to comment so early in the process. Council Member Alan Shealy could not be reached for comment before press time.

The public hasn't been shy about commenting, though. Within the last week, more than 2,000 people have signed an online petition against expanding leash restrictions on lower and mid-level trails in the Foothills. Others have directed their anger at Boise public officials, giving them a piece of their minds.

Adam Park, spokesperson for Bieter, just laughed when asked if his office had received many calls. Nearly 40 people took the time to call, and 27 others e-mailed, and most of them have been adamantly against a blanket ban on off-leash dogs on the area's most popular trails.

"There's been quite a reaction," Park said.

"[They've] been really vocal," said Betsy Roberts, advisory committee member. "They were probably kind of surprised."

The recommendation is from a working group created by the advisory committee to look at dog issues on the trails. Members of the group contacted cities across the county to see how they dealt with dogs and conflicts (BW, News, "Dog Dirt Deliberations," April 2, 2008).

The final recommendation calls for all trails in the lower and mid-level of the Foothills to be on-leash only. Off-leash trails would be limited to the upper Foothills and areas outside of town.

It's a far cry from the 95 percent of public trails now open to dogs off leash.

The committee was scheduled to review the recommendations on May 7, and pass them on to the City Council, but that step has been put on hold for the time being. Instead, expect more meetings, more public comment, and, possibly, some new recommendations.

"It appears that there was not yet really a plan for step two," Roberts said. "That's kind of missing right now."

The committee and the city are trying to set up a way for residents to offer comments on the actual proposal and are considering either a public hearing or a survey.

"People want a process," said Suki Molina, vice chair of the committee, who also works for the Idaho Conservation League. "They want it to be public, and they want a beginning and an end. We're in the middle right now."

The working group said it felt that leash laws would cut down on conflicts between dogs and other trail users, other dogs, wildlife harassment, and would encourage owners to pick up after their pets—the largest problem identified in public surveys.

While most people expected the group to suggest some restrictions, no one anticipated just how far it would go.

"It was more restrictive than I expected it to be," Roberts said.

Susan Marston, a 16-year Boise resident, started the online petition and rallied the opposition as soon as she read the proposed leash restrictions.

In just a few days, thousands of people have signed their names to the petition, rocketing the total toward Marston's 10,000 signature goal.

"I'm just thrilled to death that the people of Boise have attached to this," she said.

Marston was one of more than 400 people who provided comments on the trail system to the working group in February, but said she was under the impression that the only problem being addresses was dog poop on the trails.

The recommendations caught her off-guard.

"I was shocked and disappointed beyond belief that they would instigate a leash law to deal with a poop issue," she said.

Marston believes the problems on the trails have been blown out of proportion and asks for some sort of actual data to back up the claims.

"I'm one of 2,000 people who really think this is overkill," she said.

Marston said she and others believe there may have been an effort by the city to slide something by without the public noticing.

City officials and committee members deny there was any pre-concieved outcome.

Ultimately, Roberts believes there will be some kind of compromise between the two sides of the issue.

"There's a problem out there, most would agree," she said. "Leashes are a solution to some of the problems. Yes, there will be more on-leash areas than there has been, but we don't know how extensive.

"We need to take some baby steps and move forward a little bit slower."

The public reaction hasn't gone for naught.

"The biggest thing here is the city and committee has said, 'We hear you folks. You've got concerns. We need to listen in detail, but we can't throw away what the [working group] did," Roberts said.