Bad dog owners are the problem, not bad dogs
A batch of recent news stories have my hackles up.
The first was last Sunday's Kokua Line, in which a reader, upset that dogs are walked in and around Ala Moana Beach Park, basically argued that canines are too filthy and dangerous to share public spaces with families. The second was Monday's story about dog owners losing a walking route on Kauai because a new $50 million path on the site has been designated a county park and made off limits to dogs.
And then came Thursday's painful story about a little boy playing at a Maui beach who was bitten by a dog allowed to run off leash. The dog owner fled.
It is awful that this child was hurt and I hope the woman who ran off can be found to face the consequences of her actions. But the problem isn't with dogs, it's with people. The problem is with dog owners who are irresponsible and insensitive to the other users of public space.
Leashed dogs are allowed on Valley Isle beaches, but the Maui Humane Society is worried about pressure to change the rules.
We don't ban people from the beach because some people create an unsafe environment by being belligerent, leaving broken glass and other litter, peeing against trees or discarding dirty diapers anywhere but in a trash can. We pass laws designed to punish the bad behavior, not the public as a whole.
We need to take the same approach, punishing bad dog owners, rather than banning dogs.
We have a deeply flawed dog-owning culture in Hawaii. Far too many dog owners abuse canines. Leaving aside the morally bankrupt individuals who fight their dogs, there are many more abusers who treat dogs as if they were furry alarm systems. Chaining a dog in the garage for its entire life is abuse. Dogs are pack animals, not loners. Isolating them makes them defensive and potentially dangerous. And it goes on all over the state.
And no one is more adversely affected by dog owners who fail to pick up after their pets than responsible dog owners. First, because all dog owners wind up being tarred with the same brush. Second, because dogs are fascinated with the feces of other animals and therefore much more likely than any human to be harmed by diseased waste that is left lying around.
If we are going to change a dog-owning culture that condones irresponsibility and abuse, we need to support responsible dog owners.
Responsible dog ownership confers health benefits and is good for our community. It pours money into our economy, largely into small locally owned businesses such as vets, groomers, instructors, "doggie bakeries" and pet stores. It is a good way for children (and even adults) to learn responsibility, patience and compassion.
To be healthy and well-adjusted, dogs must get out to walk, play and socialize.
One of the suggestions floated in Kokua Line was to keep dogs out of public spaces by building an off-leash park in every neighborhood. Not only would this be expensive, it's wrong headed.
First, while some dogs will run themselves ragged at off-leash parks, it is not a substitute for real exercise for most, and conveys no health benefits to their owners.
Second, there are people problems there, too. Dog parks are not universally safe or well policed. I have seen so much bad behavior -- technically on the part of the dogs, but truly a consequence of clueless humans -- that I no longer frequent or recommend them.
Third, I think public resources should go to support broader needs -- such as the city's vastly underfunded spay-neuter program and general park maintenance -- rather than highly specialized parks that serve a minority of dog owners.
So while the canine-averse might like the idea, dog parks are not an alternative to allowing, better yet encouraging, responsible humans and their canine companions to use our public spaces for exercise and socialization.
The Kokua Line complaint was that dogs are walked on Ala Moana paths even though that's against the rules. Well, why in the world is it against the rules?
The Kauai problem is that the county prohibits dogs in parks. That's just bad government policy. One out of three homes on Kauai includes a dog. Good government would encourage those folks to get their pets out for exercise by fostering those opportunities, not limiting them.
It benefits the community as a whole to support responsible dog ownership and change a culture that makes the "responsible" part of that phrase optional. Walking a leashed dog should be legal in all public spaces.
We should encourage, rather than block, the responsible use of public spaces by dog owners and their companions.
Stephanie Kendrick is the Star-Bulletin's news editor. My Turn is a periodic column written by Star-Bulletin staff members.
My Turn is a periodic column written by Star-Bulletin staff members expressing their personal views.