Accommodating Dogs in Eastlake

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control: “Dogs not only provide comfort and companionship, but several studies have found that dogs decrease stress and promote relaxation. Dogs have positive impacts on nearly all life stages. They influence social, emotional, and cognitive development in children, promote an active lifestyle, and have even been able to detect oncoming epileptic seizures or the presence of certain cancers. But for all the positive benefits of keeping dogs, pet owners should be aware that dogs can carry germs that make people sick.”

As more Eastlakers have brought dogs into their lives, dogs have become a more important part of our community, and their need for space is becoming an issue. What can we do to improve the options for Eastlake’s dogs and their owners?

Sadly, Eastlake has seen an increase in violations of Seattle’s leash law. As outlined in a background section below, the Animal Control Code prohibits offleash use of any street, sidewalk, park, or other public space, and the Parks Code excludes even leashed dogs from any organized athletics area, designated children’s play area, or public beach, swimming or wading area.

Unleashed dogs in public spaces are allowed only in Seattle’s twelve designated off-leash areas, one of which Eastlake is fortunate to have, in the I-5 Colonnade Open Space. See background sections below on efforts to improve the Colonnade off-leash area, and the possibility of an off-leash area in Eastlake’s North Gateway triangle.

Dog poop is too often left in Eastlake’s public parks and green spaces, on and near sidewalks, or in gardens that residents and businesses tend for the enjoyment of passersby. Seattle’s Animal Control Code prohibits leaving dog poop in public spaces or on others’ property, including in a garbage can without permission. See background section below about the public health and environmental issues.

Many a dog owner wishes (at least occasionally) to “please let me be as good a person as my dog thinks I am.” On the dogs’ behalf, here’s a sincere thank-you to the majority of owners who observe the leash law and take dog poop home for disposal. And here’s a request for the help of everyone, whether dog owner or not, in improving things for dogs and people in Eastlake. The Eastlake Community Council welcomes your ideas and involvement. Please contact ECC at info@eastlakeseattle.org or c/o Lake Union Mail, 117 E. Louisa St. #1, Seattle, WA 98102-3278.

How dogs are regulated by City law

The Seattle Animal Control Code (section 9.25 of the Municipal Code, available on-line) imposes firm requirements upon dog owners and penalties for their enforcement. Dogs must be under control by a leash 8 feet in length or shorter everywhere in Seattle except in a designated Parks Department off-leash area, on the premises of the owner, or on property other than the animal’s owner with the permission of a lawful occupant. Otherwise the dog is deemed “at large” and subject to citation of the owner or taking by Animal Control officers or the police.

The Animal Control Code also requires that the owner purchase a license for any dog or cat over the age of eight weeks or within thirty days of its entry into Seattle. All dogs and cats must “display conspicuously the current and valid license identification,” except that cats may alternatively be implanted with microchip identification if the number is registered with Seattle Animal Control.

And the Animal Control Code makes it unlawful for a dog owner to “Fail to remove the fecal matter deposited by his/her animal on public property or private property of another before the owner leaves the immediate area where the fecal matter was deposited.” The Code also makes it unlawful for dog owners to “fail to have in their possession the equipment necessary to remove” their “animal’s fecal matter when accompanied by said animal on public property or public easement.”

The Seattle Parks Code (section 18.12 of the Municipal Code) makes it unlawful (with the exception being in Seattle’s 12 designated off-leash areas) to allow or permit any dog or other pet to run at large in any park. The Code also makes it unlawful for any person to allow or permit a dog or other pet “to enter any public beach, swimming or wading area, pond, fountain, stream, organized athletics area or designated children’s play area.”

The Animal Control Code prohibits dogs on school grounds while school is in session or during after-school activities, and otherwise dogs are allowed there only if on leash and “if the owner has in his or her immediate possession a device to remove properly any feces the animal may deposit on school grounds.”

Rogers Playground (its official name; many also call it Rogers Playfield) is between the Seward public school buildings and the 2500 block of Eastlake Avenue E. Under a formal agreement with the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department, the Seattle School District has priority for Rogers Playground’s use when school is in session.

A central part of the I-5 Colonnade Open Space is the dog off-leash area. As a part of the Colonnade planning and design process (for background on the process for all of Colonnade, see web page in column at right), proposals have emerged for improvement of the Colonnade off-leash area. See below for how to pledge volunteer hours, and why your pledge will help bring City funds for the needed improvements.

The planning process found that the Colonnade off-leash area needs additional design and engineering to improve the drainage, install a more paws-friendly surface, install lighting, prune back shrubs and branches, create larger yards, improve signage, provide running water, add dog-themed art, and create an agility course, dog playground, and small/shy dog area. (Suggestions for other improvements are always welcome, to the address below.)

Public health and environmental impacts of dogs in public spaces

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies pet waste as a major source of nonpoint water pollution. EPA reports that a single gram of pet waste (the size of a pea) contains around 23 million fecal coliform bacteria (twice that in human poop). A human exposed to this type of bacteria can suffer urinary tract infection, severe anemia and kidney failure.

Other bacteria found in dog poop include campylobacter (the most common diarrhea), leptospira (diarrhea with high fever, jaundice, rash and vomiting), salmonella (diarrhea, bloody stools, vomiting, dizziness), yersinia (bloody diarrhea and fever), and antibiotic-resistant MRSA (which can be fatal).

Also found in dog poop are viruses (such as coronavirus, which causes respiratory problems and fever), parasitic worms (roundworms, whipworms, hookworms, threadworms, and tapeworms), protozoa (such as giardia and cryptosporidium, both of which cause diarrhea and other serious health impacts) and fungi. While humans are at risk, so are dogs themselves from other dogs’ waste for such diseases as canine parvovirus (potentially damaging to the heart muscle) and canine hepatitis.

When not disposed of in a garbage can as the City requires, dog poop doesn’t just “wash away.” It is a breeding medium for flies and a feast for rats. Pathogens leach out into soil, across paved surfaces, and into bodies of water, remaining active for years. Dog poop and urine are also full of nitrogen and phosphorus which reduce dissolved oxygen levels, suffocating fish and other aquatic life. Some studies rank dog and cat waste as Lake Union’s worst pollutants.

As children are more likely to play on the ground, ingest soil, and have unwashed hands, they are particularly at risk for infection from dog poop. That is why Seattle’s Parks Code prohibits dogs (whether with or without leash) from designated children’s play areas and organized athletics areas, and why Seattle’s Animal Control Code has a similar prohibition from school grounds when school is in session. Even the most careful effort to bag a dog’s poop leaves some of it on the grass for contact from whomever will walk or play there next.

In addition to the public health concerns, dogs are problematic for grassy parks like Rogers Playground and Fairview Park because they damage the grass itself. Depending on the amount, dog poop and urine either overfertilize grass or kill it outright, so that fixing it requires replacement with new turf.
Grassy areas visited frequently by dogs are damaged by their running and digging. Illegal offleash use of Rogers Playground is already beginning to cause such damage. Official off-leash areas elsewhere in Seattle and around the country that are grassy and receive constant use by dogs are proving not to be sustainable as grass, and are switching to other surfaces.

CityLab’s guide to How to Design an Excellent Dog Park concludes that “after rains and the stress of repeated trampling and digging, not to mention the chemical scorching of urine, grass parks can resemble muddy hellholes with sloshing craters. For that reason many parks (especially those in cities) go with hard surfaces or an Astro-Turf-like fake grass that’s hosed down with soap and bleach.”

Improving the Colonnade Off-leash Area

Seattle’s twelve official off-leash areas are the only public spaces in the city where dogs are not required to be on leash. One is the half-acre off-leash area that is in the I-5 Colonnade Open Space, beside the 1600 block of Franklin Avenue E.

Detailed history and analysis of all parts of this City park as well as of its off-leash area can be found in the 2017 Colonnade Schematic Long-Range Plan (http://eastlakeseattle.org/?page=colonnade). The Eastlake Community Council and the distinguished landscape architecture firm J.A. Brennan Associates produced the plan with support from the Neighborhood Matching Fund, extensive public input, and close liaison with the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation, WSDOT, and other public agencies.

The Colonnade off-leash area opened in 2005 as a replacement for the Volunteer Park off-leash area which had to be closed because grass and trees were being damaged by dog use and waste. Unlike Seattle’s other off-leash areas, Colonnade has the unique advantage of being protected from the rain by having the freeway overhead.

The Colonnade offleash area was Seattle’s first to use gravel as a replacement for the grass that has proven unsustainable in other offleash areas. The design is a concrete enclosure filled with gravel, and an irrigation system to rinse away dog waste, with the wastewater going to the City sewer.
The Colonnade off-leash area started with a surface of rounded rock gravel that many dogs didn’t find paw-friendly. The Parks Department has gradually been replacing it with more paw-friendly pea gravel and crushed granite gravel, surfaces that are also increasingly being used in other off-leash areas (such as the largest one at Magnuson Park).

The Colonnade off-leash area’s several enclosed yards are each fairly small. The Parks Department is planning to remove some of the internal fences to allow dogs to run more freely, such as to retrieve a ball. A more expensive later step proposed in the 2017 long-range plan is to expand the yards at the north and south ends.

Other additions called for in the long-range plan include a small/shy dogs area; a dog agility course and dog playground; lighting at night; signs to make the off-leash area more visible from Franklin Avenue E. and elsewhere in the park; and public art, including a dog-themed gateway at the south end of the off-leash area near the intersection of Franklin Ave. and E. Garfield St.

Maintenance is a challenge at all offleash areas, and Colonnade is no exception. The Seattle Parks Department is responsible for emptying trash cans, but not all dog waste makes it into them, and sometimes the cans are illegally filled with private garbage. Citizens for Off-Leash Areas (COLA) have an agreement with the Department to provide a volunteer steward for Colonnade and other off-leash areas. Volunteers are always needed to help the steward.

The 2017 Colonnade schematic long-range plan also calls for a gentle grade path (now quite steep) and an inviting entrance to the park at E. Blaine Street leading up from Franklin Ave. to the north end of the off-leash area and points east. It also proposes conversion of about six feet of the eastern edge of the off-leash area into an ADA-accessible path to allow passage by the public between the north and south ends of the park without having to enter the off-leash area.

Many of the improvements mentioned above are unlikely to happen without fundraising and planning such as occurs with an Eastlake application to Seattle’s Neighborhood Matching Fund. If you would like to help in writing and administering the grant application, help with this effort and to work with City officials to ensure that the Colonnade offleash area is improved.

If you prefer to be just a foot soldier in these efforts, you can help us get the grant by pledging two or more volunteer hours (preferably at least four hours) to attend public meetings, open houses, and workshops. Be sure to list your street address (required by the City in order for your pledge to be valid). Pledges of engineering, architecture, graphic design skills,or funds, are also welcome and needed. They will only be redeemed if we get the grant. Send pledges or questions to the Eastlake Community Council, info@eastlakeseattle.org, or c/o Lake Union Mail at 117 E. Louisa St. #1, Seattle, WA 98102.

Possible off-leash area in Eastlake’s North Gateway triangle

If sufficient volunteers, funds, donations, and public support can be found, a, small off-leash area for dogs may be possible under Interstate 5 just a block south of the University Bridge in the triangle whose north end is where Eastlake Avenue E. and Harvard Avenue E. intersect and whose south end is E. Allison Street. A major advantage of this site is that the freeway largely protects it from the rain. Among Seattle’s existing 12 off-leash areas this is a feature shared only by Eastlake’s other off-leash area, at the I-5 Colonnade Open Space (see accompanying article).

This site was the topic of much discussion and chapter 8, “North Gateway Element” of the 1998 Eastlake Neighborhood Plan (http://eastlakeseattle.org/?page=plan). Developed by a North Gateway planning committee, this planning element was adopted by the Eastlake Neighborhood Plan Steering Committee, a broad-based coalition of stakeholders that spent $75,000 under contract with the City, as administered by the Eastlake Community Council.

The Mayor and City Council adopted the Eastlake Neighborhood Plan in April 1999 via Resolution 29932, which included as its appendix a 55-page Approval and Adoption Matrix. The plan’s North Gateway element and its Mayor/City Council policies focused especially on art and greenery. Significantly, policy NG-1.4 warned: “An off-leash area for dogs is not compatible with the art placement and green space recommendations for the North Gateway.”

Introducing a small off-leash area in the North Gateway triangle would thus need to be through a site-specific planning and design effort with public outreach and interagency liaison. There is reason to think that the planning outcome would be more favorable to an offleash area this time, as dog ownership is much more widespread in Eastlake than it was twenty years ago, as is violation of the leash law in existing parks.

Despite some improvements, the North Gateway triangle has not been as successful a public space as intended by the Eastlake Neighborhood Plan. In part the problem is that the area is largely deserted. More extensive use such as from an off-leash area would give the space more life, buy-in, and safety.

A new planning process specifically for this overall site (to also include the small area just south of Allison Street up to where the freeway bridge touches ground) seems very timely. Seattle’s Neighborhood Matching Fund can be a source of funds for planning efforts of this kind (as ECC did for the public and interagency process that produced the 2017 Schematic Long-Range Plan for the I-5 Colonnade Open Space and its surroundings).

Loss of some of the trees and shrubs that are now in the North Gateway would doubtless be controversial with some. But an integrated redesign could make possible not only keeping some (partially relocated) landscaping while also including new features to enliven the space.

New uses for the North Gateway triangle should depend upon public input and a planning and design process, but could include: (1) a small off-leash area (such as the 0.2 acre Boren-Pike-Pine Park), with either sand or crushed granite as a paw-friendly surface more sustainable than grass; (2) a paved event space to accommodate small public markets, fairs, and concerts; and (3) public parking to serve the off-leash area and the surrounding community, with some of the parking temporarily convertible to additional event space.

The site is sloped, and there would be a need for some terracing. Crucial stakeholders in this matter are WSDOT and SDOT. The Washington State Department of Transportation, which owns this land and whose primary responsibility is to protect or strengthen the columns that hold up the freeway bridge. The Seattle Department of Transportation manages the North Gateway triangle under agreement with WSDOT.

To move ahead with these possibilities for the North Gateway triangle, a volunteer project manager or committee would need to apply for and manage the Neighborhood Matching Funds, and manage the outreach, liaison, planning, and design process. Please get involved, and to do so contact the Eastlake Community Council at info@eastlakeseattle.org. And we want to hear from you about anything mentioned here about accommodating dogs in Eastlake, or any aspects of this issue which we may have left out or somehow misunderstood.

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