Hoffman's Houston
a cautionary tail

Ken Hoffman warns of the dangers looming in Houston dog parks

Ken Hoffman warns of the dangers looming in Houston dog parks

Johnny Steele Dog Park Allen Parkway
Is a trip to the dog park worth the potential risk? Photo by Jacob Power

My dog, Sally, is never going to a public dog park again. I’ve always had my concerns about dog parks, like aggressive dogs, potential bacteria and disease, and unsupervised activity.

But, I thought, I’ve heard good things about Officer Lucy Dog Park in Bellaire. Let’s see if Sally has fun there. I adopted Sally last New Year’s Eve. She’s grown into the sweetest, gentlest, most adorable dog I’ve ever owned.

She’s also grown into one of the biggest dogs I’ve ever owned. It didn’t say that on the card on her cage at the shelter.

Here’s what happened: I brought Sally to the dog park around 8 am last Thursday. There was a guy in there with three dogs. I asked him, “Are your dogs safe?” He said, “Yeah.”

As we walked along the fence toward the entrance, I noticed one of his dogs defecating. The guy made no effort to pick it up. I told him, “Hey…”

He said, “I got it, worry about your own dog.” He looked annoyed that I called him out about his dog pooping.

Attack at the park
That was a bad sign and I should have turned around right there. The moment we entered the gate, his three dogs attacked Sally. It happened in an instant and it was a frightening, horrible scene. They had Sally pinned down. They were snarling and one was going after her neck. Sally was screaming, a sound I had never heard her make.

This was for real. It wasn’t playing, dogs sniffing each other out. These dogs were hurting my amazing dog. I’ll never forget the awful sound of growling and barking and crying.

Ken to the rescue
I jumped in the middle and kicked the dog going for Sally’s neck as hard as I could. I yelled “Get off!” and “Do something” to the other dog’s owner. He just stood there.

I grabbed Sally and slammed the gate behind. The other dogs were hurling themselves at the fence, still trying to get at Sally. The moment we were safe, here’s my admission, I went into a rage hollering at the other dogs’ owner. He never said sorry, just that, “...two of my dogs are in heat.”

That took a terrible situation to 11. I unleashed a torrent of profanity. The guy didn’t back off. He told me to F-off, and how about this, “I was here first. If you don’t like it, don’t bring your dog in here.”

That made me 1,000 times angrier. There is a list of rules on the gate at Officer Lucy Dog Park. No vicious dogs, no dogs in heat, on and on. The problem — and this was my original concern about public dog parks — you can have all the rules you want, but if you don’t enforce the rules, you have no rules. 

I was furious. You never know how you’re going to react in a situation, but if his dogs had killed Sally, I would have spent last Thursday night in jail. People dump on me all day long — get in line — but you can't hurt my dog. 

Time to call the police
I told the guy, I’m calling the police, which I did. Two Bellaire police cars responded within a couple of minutes. I told an officer what happened, and he called the city’s animal control officer. And I left. I wanted to get home and check out Sally, and me, for scratches and bite marks. We were both okay, but I was still shaking with anger.

The next day I called the animal control officer and asked what, if any action, he took. He said, “There wasn’t much I could do. The guy said his dogs had all their papers and their shots. He said he was moving back to the area and was looking for a dog park.”

That’s one problem with public dog parks. There is little an animal control officer can do after an incident. We love our pets. After an incident is too late.

The animal control officer did say, “I think one person bringing three dogs to a dog park is too many.” The rule at the Bellaire dog park says three dogs is okay.

I know some pet owners are very defensive about dog parks. And I’m going to hear about this column. They say, “we police ourselves. If somebody breaks the rules, we take care of the problem.” That’s fine. Have your fun.

Is the park worth it?
But, I’m never taking Sally to a public dog park again. It’s too risky. I will arrange dog play dates with neighbors. I have trained Sally to run next to me when I ride a bike. Two or three times around the block and she’s good for a long nap.

Here’s a goldmine idea: find a couple of acres you can buy cheap and open a private dog park. Hire an off-duty animal control officer to patrol inside the park and supervise things. Check out each dog for temperament. Check out each owner, too. One person for each dog. No letting a professional dog walker enter towing five dogs.

And charge for each dog. Make it a heavy ticket. Offer season passes, like theme parks. People love their dogs, they’ll pay for a safe, secure, fun dog park experience. Hey, Sally’s food costs way more than my food. I wait for discount Tuesday for my haircuts. I pay five times my haircut to get Sally groomed. Sally goes to the vet at the drop of a sniffle. I wait till I’m on my deathbed before I see a doctor, and I still don’t show up half the time.

I know that some public dog parks, like Danny Jackson Family Dog Park on Westview, are very popular. I’ve never heard of any trouble there.

Just not for me. Especially not for Sally.