Credit: Anika Rice, Creative Commons license

A long-running battle over a Takoma dog park has left dog owners barking mad.

After a six-year battle, Department of Parks and Recreation director Keith Anderson denied the petition for a dog park earlier this month, even after the park won approval from a DPR committee.

Since 2014, the advocacy group Northern Ward 4 Dog Park has led the charge for a park in their neighborhood, parts of which are up to four miles from the nearest dog park. Four community meetings, a petition with over 650 signatures, and multiple proposed locations later, the group was convinced they had a winning plan: a site, suggested by DPR, located on the 17 acres of unused land behind the Takoma Recreation Center.

The Humane Rescue Alliance, the District’s Department of Health, and a committee of veterinarians approved. But in an agency letter explaining the rejection, DPR says the potential park was too close to neighbors’ porches, didn’t “streamline” with the existing recreation space, and was located between two popular athletic fields.

Michael Cohen, the leader of the dog park group, says that DPR’s rejection explanation doesn’t sit well.

“Most people are dumbfounded the city could operate this way, advocating for a site and then rejecting it,” Cohen says. “People wonder about DPR’s communication.”

The dog park’s potential demise should satisfy one group, though: the Friends of Takoma Recreation Center.

The Friends’ main argument? Parks like this one are for children, not for dogs. According to ANC 4B03 rep Scot Knickerbocker, a former member of the dog park group, that argument was a catalyst for the ANC’s recent decision to revoke the group’s official support, although the group’s membership rules have been an issue for decades. 

“When they couldn’t stop the dog park effort, they decided to attack the process,” he says. Indeed, the Friends’ official comments include allegations that the community wasn’t consulted on a small expansion of the proposed space and that community input provided was not “balanced.” (The Friends of Takoma Recreation Center declined to comment).

According to Cohen, members of the Friends group planned to ask Mayor Muriel Bowser for her support. Some within the dog park group wonder if that was the reason for the sudden turnaround, although the mayor’s office denies any involvement whatsoever.

In the meantime, the dog park group is committed to continuing its advocacy. A Twitter account launched the day of the rejection has been active since then, and the official letter of rejection doesn’t rule out the possibility of choosing another site. Anderson recently met with the group to discuss collaborating on finding another area. But for dog park hopefuls, it’s difficult to accept the sudden defeat of their proposal.

“That’s like going to a hamburger restaurant, getting your hamburger, and then the chef telling you not to eat it,” Cohen says. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Correction: This article initially misstated the reasons for the split between the ANC and the Friends of Takoma Recreation Center.