A tourist traveling with a pet who does a Google search with the terms "dog friendly" and "Ashland" will pull up a dire warning.

A tourist traveling with a pet who does a Google search with the terms "dog friendly" and "Ashland" will pull up a dire warning.

The top search result lists the Dogfriendly.com website, which says, "WARNING: Ashland Oregon is one of the least dog-friendly towns on the West Coast." The site says that an owner whose dog sets foot inside an Ashland park can be hit with a hefty fine. It says most parks are off-limits, and the one off-leash dog park is on the outskirts of town.

"Best to just keep on driving on I-5," Dogfriendly.com concludes.

Members of the recently formed group Ashland Loves Dogs want to counter that message by pointing out Ashland's dog-friendly features, while also working to allow canine access to more places around town.

Ashland has long had a ban on dogs in most developed parks, including Lithia Park, although it does allow dogs in many open-space areas and along trails.

Adding to the restrictions faced by dog owners, growers' markets in Ashland and the rest of the Rogue Valley have barred dogs in the past few years, citing sanitation and safety concerns.

In February, the Ashland School District posted signs on school grounds that dogs are not allowed. School officials said kids were tracking dog waste inside and that the waste posed health hazards.

"We were very concerned about the trend we observed of narrowing options for dogs," said Vicki Bamman, who helped found the Ashland Loves Dogs group. "I was also very concerned about the reputation Ashland has outside the area."

Bamman runs Miss Molly's Pet Services, a business that offers pet-sitting, dog walking and a pet taxi. She often cares for the dogs of tourists who are attending plays in Ashland.

"I had one couple who told me they were staying in Jacksonville because Ashland is such a dog-unfriendly town," Bamman said.

She said Ashland Loves Dogs would like the Parks and Recreation Commission to allow dogs in some neighborhood parks and along a proposed walking trail on the perimeter of the Oak Knoll Public Golf Course. Bamman said dog owners would also appreciate a second dog park on the south end of town and more waste bag dispenser stations.

She said volunteers would be willing to patrol parks that are opened to dogs to pick up waste left behind by irresponsible dog owners.

Ashland Loves Dogs member Colleen Shanahan, a dog trainer who offers lessons through the parks department and her business Dog Gone Fun!, said the group wants to encourage responsible dog ownership.

One possibility is for volunteers to give out rewards, such as cards for free coffee, to dog owners whom they spot picking up pet waste, Shanahan said.

"My philosophy with dog training is to reward good behavior for dogs. If we can reward people for responsible pet ownership, that would be a novel thing," she said.

Group member M.L. Moore said dog owners are taxpaying citizens, but they are not getting full use of the town's parks. She said she was also discouraged by the closure of the Lincoln Elementary School grounds to dog walkers.

The elementary school was closed in 2005 because of declining enrollment, but a preschool does use the building and the school's field. Dog owners had used the field as an unofficial dog park for several years.

Moore, who lives near the school grounds, said the field sees much less use now that dogs are banned. She said some neighborhood parks are also often empty.

"Some of the parks around town that are convenient to neighborhoods seem to be under-utilized. If you lifted the ban on dogs, I think there would be more use," Moore said.

She said dog owners need to be responsible in picking up waste and in leashing their animals on trails to avoid scaring people who may be afraid of dogs.

"Until dog owners can clean up their messes, then Ashland is not going to be friendly to dogs. The onus is on dog owners," said Moore, who patrols trails and answers people's questions as a volunteer trail host for the parks department.

In June, the Parks Commission is likely to take up the issue of whether to expand dog access to more parkland, Parks Director Don Robertson said.

Dogs are allowed in many parks-managed woodlands, such as Siskiyou Mountain Park, and on several undeveloped properties owned by the department.

They can also go on the Bear Creek Greenway trail that stretches between Ashland and Central Point, and on trails that border a Talent Irrigation District canal that runs through town.

The parks department has waste bag stations at trailheads and at many other sites. Last year it dispensed 60,000 waste bags, Robertson said.

In September, parks commissioners hosted a forum on the issue of dogs in parks. They have also received a range of emails and phone calls from people with opposing views on whether to open up more parkland to dogs.

"For every person who wants dogs in a certain park, there is someone else who doesn't want dogs in that park," Robertson said. "It's something the commissioners will have to discuss."

For a map of a dozen dog-friendly outdoor spots in Ashland, visit www.ashland.or.us/Files/DogFriendly.pdf.

That map usually shows up in second place on a Google search using the words "dog friendly" and "Ashland" — if a person looks past Dogfriendly.com's warning that Ashland is anti-dog.

Bamman said the Ashland Loves Dogs group plans to create a website and Facebook page. She already has a bumper sticker on her eye-catching yellow pet taxi with the message that Ashland loves dogs.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.