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Advocates of off-leash dog parks look to LaSalle field as a start

Part of Buffalo's waterfront would go to the dogs if some animal rights activists have their way.

They met Tuesday with the Common Council to promote a proposal that would create the city's first dog park.

The plan would turn a baseball field at LaSalle Park into a 1.3-acre off-leash area where dogs could frolic in a fenced facility under the watchful eye of owners.

"There's a dire need for dog parks in the city," said Dr. Reed Stevens, president of the Niagara Frontier Veterinary Society, a group that represents 170 members.

Reed, who operates the Ellicott Small Animal Hospital in Buffalo, estimated that 40 percent of all city households own dogs. When the pets are properly exercised and socialized, they make "better neighbors," he stressed.

Reed was accompanied by Jay McCarthy, a local activist who has been exploring new ways to utilize parklands. Turning LaSalle Park's Field 7 into a dog haven wouldn't pose a major problem for baseball teams, they argued, because there are newer diamonds in the park that offer better playing conditions and are more fully utilized.

City lawmakers are reviewing a resolution sponsored by Delaware Council Member Michael J. LoCurto that calls on the Council to support the creation of dog parks. The bill does not identify specific locations.

The greatest risk a dog park might face is overuse, advocates said, predicting a lone facility would be enormously popular. They urged officials to consider creating additional sites in the future. North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. is thinking along the same lines. He cited one plan advanced by some community leaders that would create a leash-free area for dogs at a new park proposed at the Ontario Street Boat Launch.

The city and Erie County would have to approve any dog runs built in Buffalo parks. Under a 2004 agreement, the county maintains all city parks and recreational facilities.

But LoCurto is convinced it's time for the city to create dog parks, something that has been discussed for several years.

"Enclosed play areas prevent off-leash dogs from infringing on the rights of other community residents and park users such as joggers, small children and those who may be fearful of dogs," LoCurto wrote in his resolution.

Those pushing for dog parks insist that concerns about subjecting the city to legal liability are unfounded, claiming dog-bite lawsuits have not been a major issue elsewhere. They said there are already 500 dog parks in about 250 communities across the country.


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