A popular website for tourists who travel with their dogs is no longer telling them to avoid Ashland, but it says more changes are needed before the town can be considered dog-friendly.
Dogfriendly.com used to tell tourists to just drive on past Ashland. But it removed that advice this month, noting that in 2011 the Parks Commission eased up on rules that barred dogs from most parks.
But the website says the commission did not go far enough because leashed dogs must be kept within 6 feet of paved surfaces in parks. "It is still one of the least dog-friendly towns on the West Coast," the website states.
Operator Len Kain says Dogfriendly.com gets 3 million to 5 million visits — representing about 1 million people — annually from throughout the United States and Canada.
The website lauds the efforts of volunteers, the Ashland Parks and Recreation Department, and local businesses to give out gift certificates to dog owners who are spotted responsibly picking up their dogs' waste while out on walks in the community.
Ashland Loves Dogs, a group that is trying to change Ashland's reputation as dog-unfriendly, is also taking part in that effort, which launched earlier this month.
"We're going to keep telling people that Ashland loves responsible dog owners," says Colleen Shanahan, a member of Ashland Loves Dogs and owner of a dog training business.
Shanahan says she is glad that Dogfriendly.com no longer tells tourists to skip Ashland.
"That's fabulous news for travelers. It's good for local businesses. Businesses want tourists to come to Ashland," she says.
Meanwhile, a subcommittee of the Parks Commission has recommended that dogs be allowed in all areas of eight parks, except in children's play areas and on ball fields.
That recommendation will go to the full Parks Commission for a possible vote during a meeting that starts at 7 p.m. Monday in the Ashland Civic Center Council Chambers, 1175 E. Main St.
The subcommittee also has recommended that Ashland add a second off-leash dog park and upgrade dog-friendly trail maps.
During the past few years, parks officials have received emails, phone calls and public testimony that is about evenly split on whether to allow dogs more access to parks.
Some residents are afraid of dogs, don't want to step in dog waste, or don't want dogs to harass wildlife in parks.
"We're trying to address people's desire to have more access for dogs, while balancing that with the fact that other people want tranquil space where they don't have to deal with dogs," says Parks Commissioner Stefani Seffinger, a member of the subcommittee that recommended easing rules.
Seffinger says dogs may get more access to parks if owners can show they are responsible by picking up waste and keeping dogs leashed.
Commissioner Rick Landt, who is not on the subcommittee, says he supports additional dog parks.
Not only do they provide room for dogs to roam, but dog parks in different parts of town reduce traffic, thereby cutting congestion and pollution, Landt says.
The town's one off-leash dog park is in northwest Ashland off Nevada Street.
Landt says the rule that dogs stay within 6 feet of paved surfaces makes parks more friendly for wildlife, protects fragile environments, and defines a corridor where park users can expect to find dog waste.
Six feet was chosen because that is a common leash length, Landt says.
While Dogfriendly has called the 6-foot restriction an uncommon rule, Landt says he would call it an innovative experiment.
Dogfriendly.com says it would be happy to call Ashland dog-friendly if the town would allow dogs to have regular use of some parks, offer some pet-friendly patio dining at restaurants, have dog-friendly shops, and perhaps add a second off-leash dog park.
Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or email@example.com.