Starting Wednesday, July 1, leashed dogs and cats will be permitted in most Dubuque parks and trails.
For advocates, it is a long-awaited step forward, and city officials expect many residents to quickly take advantage of the opportunity.
“It is exciting to see Dubuque become a more pet-friendly community,” said city resident and dog owner Kristin Woodward-Vaassen. “With pets being a big part of our families, it only makes sense for them to join us in park settings and other places we gather.”
City Park Division Manager Steve Fehsal said city officials expect to see an influx of more people coming to the parks with pets, with the city recently reopening park playgrounds and restrooms.
But projected revenue shortfalls caused by the COVID-19 pandemic means pet waste disposal stations will not be installed.
“It doesn’t mean that as the economy improves, the funding won’t become available at some time,” Fehsal said. “Right now, our budgets are basically frozen, based on revenue projections.”
Parks staff, though, was able to purchase some signs through its normal operating budget.
City staff members were working Monday to replace “no pets allowed signs” in city parks with ones reminding pet owners that dogs must be leashed and to pick up after their pets.
Also frozen in the city’s budget is promoting a part-time animal control officer to full time. The city currently has one full-time animal control officer.
The city also has three park rangers that have had their hours reduced from 65 total to 45 total per week patrolling city parks in the evening, due to budget constraints.
Pet owners remain liable and responsible for their dogs and cats, and they need to bring their own pet waste bags to the park or trail, Fehsal said.
Council members voted unanimously in March to change the city’s animal-control ordinance.
Proponents argued that pet-friendly recreation opportunities increasingly are seen as an expected quality-of-life amenity and that allowing leashed pets in select parks and trails has not resulted in significant increases in animal-control complaints.
Opponents raised concerns about waste disposal and safety with dogs and children running around in the same area.
“We’re just going to see how things play out, honestly,” Fehsal said Monday of interactions between pets and families in more city parks. “We’re going to have to see what kinds of complaints and concerns we get, and that will be taken back to the city’s pet-friendly working group and the parks and recreation commission for discussion.”
The city has recorded 10 or fewer animal control violations per year in city parks and trails. That includes citations for pets running loose, improper waste disposal, improper restraint and failure to restrain a pet, said city Public Health Specialist Mary Rose Corrigan.
Under the ordinance:
- Dogs and cats are allowed in most parks, trails and city-owned public spaces.
- Properties in which pets are not permitted include Bunker Hill Golf Course; Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Gardens; Eagle Point, Marshall and Murphy parks; Veterans Memorial Plaza; fenced-in sporting areas; buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places and children’s recreational areas.
- Dogs and cats need to be leashed. Any unleashed animals found on city property could be impounded. The proposed ordinance also states owners must pick up and dispose of their pets’ waste.
- Unleashed dogs are allowed in the city’s pet park. Unleashed pets also are allowed at John G. Bergfeld Recreation Area, but only for out-and-back exercise at the pond. Dogs have to be on a leash in that area at other times.
- Service animals used by persons with disabilities are not subject to the ordinance.
Corrigan said the city plans to distribute new animal control brochures and educate residents about the new ordinance via social media, the city newsletter and other outlets.
“Our goals with any animal ordinance is to educate the public to be responsible pet owners ... regardless of enforcement,” Corrigan said. “Regardless of whether in a park or a city sidewalk or walking with your pet off of your property, a leash is required. That’s not new.
“Pets can’t run loose off leash. The place to do that is the pet park.”
Violations can be reported to the City of Dubuque animal control staff during normal working hours at 563-589-4185. After hours, individuals can call the Police Department’s non-emergency line at 563-589-4415.