OLYMPIA - A high incidence of dog bites in state parks has resulted in a special emphasis to enforce current laws requiring dogs to be on leash and under control while in state parks. Infractions issued for unleashed pets carry a fine of $87, and cases go through county district courts.
The State Parks special emphasis was announced during National Dog Bite Prevention Week. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year, and nearly one in five of those bitten - a total of 885,000 - require medical attention for dog bite-related injuries.
In 2009, 22 people in state parks received dog bites, and seven of them required professional medical attention. In 2008, 31 people were bitten by dogs, with eight requiring medical attention. State Parks rangers made an increased effort last year to talk to dog owners about the importance of the leash rule in state parks, but because of continued problems and public safety concerns, this year rangers are more likely to issue infractions on first offenses.
State law allows dogs to be in state parks, provided they are on a leash no longer than eight feet and are under control at all times. Dogs are allowed in campgrounds, picnic areas and on established trails. They are not allowed in park buildings or in natural area preserves. Pet owners are expected to keep their pets quiet and to clean up after them. Many parks offer bags for cleaning up after pets.
"Even one case where someone gets a dog bite is too many," said Robert Ingram, State Parks chief of visitor protection and law enforcement. "We want a park system that's welcoming to the whole family, including pets - so our priority has to be safety."
"The number of problems created by pets in the parks is growing as the population grows," Ingram said. "State Parks is experiencing more of these problems, and so are county and city park systems. People need to remember that their pet, who may be completely friendly and reliable with family and friends, may react differently in a strange environment where there is open space, wildlife, other dogs, people, horses and unusual noises and smells."
Adhering to the law also assures greater safety for the pet. One ranger cited incidents where dogs fell to their deaths from high-elevation trails, got lost, got hit by vehicles in the park or were attacked by other off-leash dogs. In a recent incident, two large dogs playing happily off leash, suddenly attacked a third large dog that was off-leash. The dog that was attacked was seriously hurt and required extensive medical care. Its owner tried to intervene and was bitten, also requiring medical care.
Ingram said it is also important to keep in mind that pets off-leash pose dangers for wildlife and can damage vegetation and other natural and cultural resources if allowed to run off trail. State Parks is charged with protecting these resources for everyone.