Residents Create Illegal ‘Dog Park’

Early Monday morning at the Field of Dreams at the Palisades Park Recreation Center, dog owners break the law by allowing their pets off-leash. One owner is ready to clean up after her dog, but not all owners are so responsible, which leaves children at the risk of disease transmission through ascarids and hookworms found in pet feces.
Early Monday morning at the Field of Dreams at the Palisades Park Recreation Center, dog owners break the law by allowing their pets off-leash. One owner is ready to clean up after her dog, but not all owners are so responsible, which leaves children at the risk of disease transmission through ascarids and hookworms found in pet feces.
Photo by Rich Schmitt, Staff Photographer

Responding to complaints that local dog owners have turned the playing fields at the Palisades Recreation Center into an off-leash dog park, the Palisadian-Post has confirmed that this illegal activity has indeed been happening every morning. After early-morning voters at the Rec Center noticed the dogs running off-leash and called the Post on November 8, my editor asked me to check out the situation. I own a dog (or, as I call him, “my hairy child”), so I suggested I might not be the best person to do the story. But as a journalist, I realized that I wanted to see if a serious problem actually existed. ”Last Thursday, 7:45 a.m. at the Rec Center, I walked over to the outdoor basketball courts. Next to the entrance to the field is a prominently displayed sign showing a dog on a leash and the words “L.A. Municipal Code 63.44-B,2,C.” Since it had rained the previous day and early that morning, an additional sign with big red letters read “FIELD CLOSED.” I counted 24 dogs off-leash running all over the field and 19 owners. All were breaking the law. ”Friday at 7:30 a.m., the “FIELD CLOSED” sign was still at entrance to the field. Twenty-nine dogs were running the field, and 26 adults and two small children were gathered in the center of the field. A Saint Bernard trotted up to the sign pole and peed on it. As I was leaving the park, five other dogs and their owners were on their way in. None of the dogs was on leash. ”Saturday at 7:33 a.m., I counted 30 owners and 33 dogs, all of them off-leash. A medium-sized black dog defecated; the product wasn’t picked up in the five minutes I observed. I talked with Mike Skinner, the 2004 Citizen of the Year, who led the community-wide campaign to raise more than $1 million to pay for construction and ongoing maintenance of the four new baseball diamonds at the park, now known as the Field of Dreams. Skinner, who has two dogs, said the “FIELD CLOSED” signs are for everybody, including dogs and their owners. “It’s kind of annoying,” he said. “When the fields are wet, they get soft and the dogs tear them up. It almost hurts to have adults standing around on wet, soft grass. Their shoes put holes in the field that can’t be fixed.” Fellow dog owner Bob Benton, who is president of the Palisades Pony Baseball Association (PPBA) and also a member of the Palisades Community Center Committee, which is paying for the maintenance of the fields, said that the situation is particularly bad right now because the Bermuda grass on the field goes dormant this time of year and is easily destroyed by this “dog park” activity. The Community Center Committee pays the maintenance people, who arrive for work about 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. “On Saturday, literally, the dogs leave and then the kids are on the field,” Skinner said. “It’s not a healthy situation, but I don’t know what we can do about it.” Benton added: “It’s becoming a problem for our maintenance group, with repairing the thatch and dealing with all the dog poop residual.” The Rec Center office doesn’t open until 9 a.m. and by then the dogs are usually gone, according to park director David Gadelha. He does see evidence that the dogs have been there because more than once a child playing soccer on the field on Saturday has done a slide tackle and got dog feces on his shorts. “It wrecks it for the little kids; they usually just go home,” he said. Another problem, said Gadelha, are the dogs who run into the park’s sandy play area where the little kids play. “If we see it, we ask the owners to keep their dogs out of there because it isn’t hygienic.” The Field of Dreams is heavily used after school and on the weekends by AYSO soccer practices and games, flag football practices and games, lacrosse, and fall baseball practices and games. In addition, students at nearby Village School, Seven Arrows and Corpus Christi use the fields during school hours for physical education classes and at lunch. Putting dogs and children on the same field is not a good idea, according to the National Center for Infectious Diseases and by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Both call for a prompt collection and disposal for pet feces, especially in areas where children play, to remove ascarid and hookworm infective eggs and larvae and to keep children away from areas that may be contaminated with pet feces. “There needs to be a dog park in the Palisades,” Veterinarian Kathy Litochleb of the Pacific Palisades Veterinary Center said. “This whole situation causes a lot of strife.”