Let’s have a trial period for leashed dogs on the Plaza

Posted on January 20, 2022 by Sonoma Valley Sun

With Dr. Rhonda Stallings of Arroyo Veterinary Hospital, I was a co-founder of SVDOG and a former president.  I “retired” from SVDOG several years ago and Rich Lee is currently president.  Like other organizations SVDOG (Sonoma Valley Dog Owners and Guardians) has understandably, and in cooperation with every-changing healthcare orders and circumstances, curtailed its activities during COVID.

As I briefly (3 minutes max!) noted at the recent joint CESC/City Council Zoom meeting, I strongly support a trial period of allowing leashed Dogs on the Plaza, and in all City parks and facilities.  Here are a few relevant points for your deliberations:
  1. In the 21st century, Dogs are not simply livestock;  they are Family Members, as any Dog-owner (and Pets Lifeline) will attest.  There are 76 million Dogs in American homes — more than human children (72 million).  If local Dog licenses are an indication, there are likely as many or more Dogs living in the City limits of Sonoma as school-age kids.
  2. During the ongoing Pandemic, the number of Valley families acquiring Dogs has skyrocketed.
  3. Prior to the Pandemic, every variety of employer was — where feasible — allowing employees to bring their Dogs to work.
  4. When SVDOG held events such as Pup & Pour at local tasting rooms, and Walk-With-The-Dogs on the bike path, scores of families with Dogs showed up.  (If photos of those events would be of interest, I can provided them).
  5. The windows of virtually every store & business in the City, and especially around the Plaza, sport an SVDOG “Dog Friendly” logo.
  6. Residents and tourists are able to Dine With Their Dogs in outdoor eating spaces in City restaurants; e.g., The Swiss Hotel, Hopmonks, Mary’s Pizza, etc.
  7. Because cities worldwide allow leashed Dogs in parks, out-of-towners are surprised to learn (and I’ve had to remind a few) they cannot take their Dogs on the Plaza.  When one occasionally sees out-of-towners with leashed Dogs in the Plaza (saw one yesterday), they are not scofflaws but simply can’t imagine Dogs being banned from public spaces.
  8. When tourists with kids & Dogs in tow visit the Duck Pond, the resident birds are more fearful of (and harassed by) off-leash kids than the on-leash Dogs.
  9. Finally, promoting Sonoma as a welcoming Dog Friendly Town could do more to lure tourists than anything the Visitors Bureau has done to date.  Post-Covid, it could facilitate the possibility of attracting a well-attended World Class Dog Show to our City in Wine Country — perhaps at the Vets Hall, the high school astro-turfed stadium, Arnold Field or Field of Dreams, or all four — which could do more to bring tourists and national TV attention to Sonoma as any wine-tasting or film festival.
In short, except for state regulations restricting Dogs in Farmer’s Market areas, there is no health or other reason to ban Dogs on leash from the Plaza.  Yes, very rarely a Dog-owner will neglect to “pick up” after Fido; a situation easily remedied with signage and Waste Bag dispensers such as those the City has installed along the miles of Bike Paths, where one seldom sees un-retrieved Dog waste.
In any event, such sightings are rare and more easily remedied than the human unpleasantness that often despoils the “Plaza Experience;”  E.G., the daily Inebriate Conference at the Fountain, off-leash kids harassing the ducks; filthy trash containers possibly harboring the next Covid variant; bicyclists riding through Plaza sidewalks (beneath the “no bicycling” signs), etc.   State-law Farmer’s Market restrictions against Dogs should & could be enforced; indeed, Farmers Market is the only time one sees a deputy near the Plaza, or elsewhere in Sonoma.
A trial period  — I suggest a year to fairly ascertain usage and behaviors (both human and animal) — is certainly reasonable and warranted.  That Staff has concluded (in writing) that neither the Sheriff nor Code Enforcement personnel have the time or ability (or inclination??) to enforce the Plaza’s current no-Dog ordinance is yet another reason to update the City Code to reflect the 21st century reality that Dogs are people, too.
I urge Council to allow a trial period, and I offer my time to help craft whatever regulations might be needed to that end.
— Bob Edwards, Sonoma
PS: “Dog” is a proper noun and should always be capitalized.

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