To the Editor:
The Other Paper recently profiled the work of Animal Control Officers in Red Rocks Park.
In response, consider this:
There is an obsession with dog poop in South Burlington’s public places. So much so, that volunteers were recently drafted for “April Stools” day to clean up after others’ dogs.
The four officers mentioned probably draw an aggregate yearly salary of at least $60,000 bankrolled by taxpayers. Beyond strolling, chatting with visitors, and petting dogs, might they render a more practical service to the community? Like maybe disposing of bagged waste left alongside the trails.
Worrisome animal behaviors were presented as fact to support leashing dogs in our parks. No documentation at all was offered to bolster the claim that dog-on-dog conflict is a major issue in our city. In fact, leash aggression — aka leash reactivity — is statistically, a far more common occurrence … Google it.
Negative ecological impacts were also alleged and blamed on unleashed dogs and their owners. If the city were really concerned about our environment, it would task park patrollers with eradicating buckthorn and other invasive species during their strolls.
Uncontrollable, loose, pooping, fighting, hunting and destructive dogs are red herrings.
The real and ongoing problem is South Burlington’s leadership. Over the past 10 years, our elected and appointed leaders have completely failed to provide residents and their dogs with adequate, permanent and safe spaces for off-leash recreational opportunities. Despite a dozen public parks in the city, not one has any open, dedicated portion set aside as a “leash-optional” dog zone. If the state of Vermont can do this at Niquette Park it can’t be that hard. Our leaders must do better. They have abdicated their responsibility to the dog-owning, tax-paying members of our community.
The council saw dog registrations as an untapped revenue source for the entire city. Consequently, we have the second highest fee of any neighboring municipality. In 2020, South Burlington registered 1,200 dogs, which contributed approximately $30,000 to city coffers. Of that contribution, a whopping 84 percent went to the city’s general fund, but only $4,800 was earmarked for a dog park fund.
It’s reasonable to assume that nearly $100,000 has been realized from registrations in three years. But tangible benefits are few beyond the sad, treeless corner of Farrell Park, a “dog park consultant” paid to validate the need for such space and promises of something wonderful to come.
Simply put, our dogs each generate $25 for the city and receive back around $4 in goods and services. This investment-to-return ratio would outrage residents if we were talking about our precious children, the elderly, veterans, or other populations that we value. Money is money, and dog owners’ money is just as good as everyone else’s. Except we clearly get less for ours. It’s not surprising that residents would affect a form of self-help and allow their dogs to run unrestrained in our parks. Not acceptable, but not surprising.
All South Burlington residents must be treated equitably to ensure access to all the considerations and services we underwrite. Our leaders need to be much more thoughtful and creative in securing fair and objective responses to all community needs.