Doggone it: Don’t take a Sacramento dog park away from the community that created it

Robin Epley

My 2-year-old German shepherd/husky/pit bull mix, Juno, is an inexhaustible source of puppy energy.

The only way to really wear her out is to take her to a large, open field and throw sticks until my arm gives out. It’s even better if there’s another big, playful dog there for her to run around with, because her four-legged friends don’t tire as easily as her mom’s throwing arm does.

Juno was accustomed to going to a large dog park every day, but I wasn’t sure where to take her when we moved back to Sacramento.

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Luckily, we rented a room within walking distance of the Sierra 2 Center, a former elementary school-turned-community center whose massive, sprawling fields were home to an unofficial dog park.

Every day, about an hour or two before sunset, dozens of dogs and dog owners chat and let their pups play on the soccer field. We keep it clean, we keep it safe, and we respect each other and the other dogs.

But now the city of Sacramento wants to close the dog park down.

Admittedly, there are some issues at Sierra 2 Center: The old field we use is not fully enclosed; there’s about a 50-foot gap in the fencing at the far end. But as a regular there, I can tell you that most dog owners are aware of the gap and prevent their pets from wandering out.

There’s also a nearby playground with a short railing that an excitable dog could jump. But for families with both children and dogs, that setup isn’t a detraction — it’s a perk.

During the pandemic, dog ownership skyrocketed. More than 23 million people nationwide — nearly one in five Americans — adopted a pet during the pandemic, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. For many of us, taking our new pups for a walk was an escape from the loneliness of COVID isolation. It was a way for us to socialize safely when we couldn’t go to work, the mall, the movies or anywhere else.

That’s how the Sierra 2 Center field became such a hub: It was the neighborhood that created it. But it seems a few cranky neighbors and a wannabe neighborhood association want to ruin the joy for everyone else.

So Sacramento officials have three options.

First, they could ban unleashed dogs and enforce that rule, as they’ve already threatened to do. Second, they could ban unleashed dogs at the park … and not enforce it.

Or, third, they could just fix the dang fencing.

The city could find a compromise that will make everyone happy. Close the gap in the fence, install the double-barrier gates that are a requirement of official dog parks and raise the barrier between the children’s playground and the field.

Just because a place isn’t purpose-built doesn’t mean it can’t serve that purpose. Sometimes communities happen organically. This one did, and the city shouldn’t squash that magic under the boot of bureaucracy.

Now please excuse me; Juno needs a walk.