You're a blushing bride-to-be. You're standing in your wedding dress in Memory Grove, giving your best smile to the photographer who's recording your radiant image for posterity and the newspaper's wedding section.
Suddenly a big, muddy, hairy, slobbery dog with no leash appears out of nowhere and jumps up on your dress in a burst of friendliness and enthusiasm. Your dress, and your day, are now ruined.This scenario actually happened, according to Salt Lake parks director Val Pope. "Not a real good way to make someone like your dog," he said.
The problem was an owner who had let his dog run loose outside of Memory Grove's "leash-free" area. According to city and county officials, it's been happening a lot since the City Council introduced leash-free areas a year ago into three city parks - Memory Grove, in City Creek Canyon; Herman Franks Park, 1300 South and 700 East; and Jordan Park, 900 South and 900 West.
Parks and animal control officials say dog owners congregate in the leash-free areas and spill over into other areas of the park, making for sometimes unpleasant interactions with non-animal lovers.
The experimental program technically ended this week, though city officials are going to let the leash-free areas slide until the City Council makes a decision on what to do. Pope is drafting recommendations to the council that include two options: cut back on leash-free areas or eliminate them entirely, or extend the program another six months.
"We really would like to see this work," he said. "There are a lot of people with dogs and they need someplace to let them run around."
Pope himself owns two large white Samoyeds.
County director of animal services David Flagler says the only way the areas will work is if all dog owners help out.
"We need your help!" he wrote to John Jansen, an activist for the leash-free areas, who owns a collie. "Unless responsible dog owners are willing to help police the park, all dog owners risk losing the off-leash area."
Jansen didn't much like that suggestion. Flagler's letter was answered by local attorney Ron Yengich, a dog owner himself (two Labradors), who wrote that Flagler "began the decision for the off-leash area in Memory Grove with a negative attitude toward dog owners" (actually, Flager was still working in Virginia at the time the area was instituted). Policing violators "is the job of law enforcement," Yengich went on. "I believe it is a job that you don't want to undertake; hence your attitude and your response to Mr. Jansen."
"Obviously the suggestion was less than well-received," Flagler said dryly.
Flagler said there's no way the limited personnel of the animal services division can adequately monitor the parks for off-leash dogs.
"I'm real disappointed in (Jansen's) stance," he said. "Instead of a community coming together to help us make it a success, they just have their attorneys send us letters."
Yengich pointed out that motorists, for example, are not expected to arrest speeders, and said the off-leash areas are better maintained and cleaner since dogs were given run of them. Jansen himself said getting rid of the off-leash areas won't stop the violators, who will let their dogs run free anyway.
"Nothing is going to materially change," he said. "You and I both know there will always be people who won't do it. Just because we can't achieve 100 percent, (Flagler) says it's a failure."
The City Council will take up the matter within the next few months, and who knows but that a certain highly placed city official may weigh in on the issue. Mayor Deedee Corradini is the devoted owner of a Rottweiler.