Should dogs and children be treated more equally?
Parks are great; they encourage exercise, socializing, and enjoyment of the outdoors. Keeping the parks safe for everyone to use has been an ongoing battle throughout the years. This is extremely important to me because my dog and I live in a city. This means that for a large part of the dogs in the community, these parks are shared backyards. As a result, all off-leash dog parks deserve to be given the same amount of respect and care as other parks such as enclosed parks for children. Personally, I find myself using dog parks the most so they will be the focus of this blog post and the urgent need to keep them safe and optimal places for dogs. Furthermore, I am going to focus on comparing dog parks and parks intended for children as I find them remarkably similar but incompatible.
Dog parks and kid parks are typically fenced in to keep a controlled environment to protect children or dogs from many things such as running off. Instead, they can run all over in a restricted environment. This is a healthy environment for them because both children and dogs have a lot of energy that needs to be released safely. Although similar, children and dogs have vastly different needs so the separation of these parks is very understandable to me. Both parks typically have posted sets of rules outside that parents or guardians review and agree to prior to entering the park. These rules often make sense and help to protect the community that is using them. This is great; everyone wins. At least this is what I had thought.
While on my usual route to take my dog to the dog park, I stopped to read the sign outside the kid’s park out of curiosity. Most of the rules seemed straightforward but one had resonated, It read” “No dogs Allowed.” My dog was excited to go to the dog park, so continued walking with her while I thought about this statement. It reminded me of the restrictions on others based on race, gender, or other related things. Was this about speciesism or was it necessarily about keeping the community safe? This blog post is not to protest this issue in hopes that the city would change the rules to allow dogs into kids’ parks. After all, she is terrified of kids and does not like to be around them. Some dogs may like children and have families with children, should these dogs also be restricted simply because they are a dog? But on the other hand, not all children know how to treat dogs with respect and dignity. In the event of being scared or put in harms way, dogs may hurt children or children may hurt dogs.
A few minutes later, we arrived at our destination, the off-leash dog park! Sam could not hold back her excitement to go play. I scanned the park thoroughly to ensure there were no kids there. Unfortunately, there was a young child running around the park. Disappointingly, I looked at Sam as I realized that we could not enjoy the park due to her fear of children and had to head back home to try again another day. This was unfortunate as we can only get to the park on the weekend and would have to wait another week before we could make it back to try again. Out of curiosity, I took another look at the rules of the dog park before leaving. There was no mention of kids being restricted in the dog park. I found this interesting; especially considering dogs are restricted from the kids’ park which is just minutes away. I was unsure of why one would be restricted and not the other but surely there was an explanation for this.
I decided to contact my city representative to gain a valuable understanding. The answer I received was “Simply put, the reason why we have signs for dogs and not children is that the Parks bylaw has provisions to regulate access for dogs but not for children.” This made me wonder that if there had been provisions to regulate access for children, would dog parks be on that list? Would it even be a good idea to regulate children? For my situation, we would benefit from this, but would it be beneficial for the entire community as a whole? It also made me wonder why there was no restriction on children. In my opinion, since dogs and children are different species and both tend to have a huge amount of energy, I do think these parks should be for the specific intended individuals only, unless you are the parent or guardian.
My dog trainer once noticed a dog off-leash (just outside the off-leash park) and commented that when a dog is off-leash, the parent does not have control of the dog no matter how well trained. I agree for the most part but I also observe how kids are also not under control when not leashed or kept close. Both children and dogs have a tendency to run all over the place which can potentially create a vulnerable, unsafe, and scary situation. Particularly if it is in a public environment.
I know that I am not the only one that is disappointed or even upset that there are children in a dog park. A simple google or Reddit search will confirm that there are many issues with kids and dogs combined in a confined public place. Some issues that I have come across were complaints about children disrespecting and hurting the dogs such as pulling ears or tails, hitting, and screaming in ears among others. Other complaints were parents of the children complaining of dogs disrespecting and hurting the children such as knocking the child over, biting/nipping, or chasing. Even without reading this, I think it is very understandable that this can easily happen to individuals and it is not a positive or safe thing to happen among the two species.
No matter how similar, they will always be different and require different environments, stimulants, and social groups. I think it would be in the communities best interest to have both parks separate and restrict access for children to the dog parks (like dogs in kids’ parks) equally. I don’t think this would-be speciesism despite singling out the species. I think it is applicable in the best interest of both the children and dogs particularly if they are enclosed, and I also think an improvement to our communities and parks. A third improvement might be to add a park section for both dogs and kids in which both individuals enjoy playing together comfortably.
I also think an improvement to our communities and parks (that are not designated as an off-leash) would be to have kids on a leash (similar to how dogs are). I know there are many who may think this is obscured but I think it is a great improvement for a community’s safety. A lot of people may think this is disrespectful to humans, but we do it to dogs out of respect for others and to keep everyone, including the dog, safe. So why not keep both the dogs and children safer and the community respected even more? I think this is especially important for cities and places that are very crowded and confined. After all, it’s not always safe to have a screaming kid running up to a giant dog that’s twice their size. After all, they both could get hurt.