Ashland will have to educate dog owners about being more responsible with their animals if it decides to loosen its restrictive stance on dogs in parks, according to most participants in a forum Monday held by the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission.

Ashland will have to educate dog owners about being more responsible with their animals if it decides to loosen its restrictive stance on dogs in parks, according to most participants in a forum Monday held by the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission.

Commissioners are gathering public input as they ponder whether to allow dogs in developed parks. They likely will examine the issue at their next regular meeting on Oct. 25.

For decades, Ashland has banned dogs from Lithia Park and most other developed parks. It has a fenced dog park where the animals can play off-leash, and dogs can visit many undeveloped park properties, along with some wooded areas and trails.

Parks and Recreation Department staff members checked laws in 19 Oregon and California cities and found 18 had less-restrictive regulations than Ashland on dogs in parks. Most allow leashed dogs in all parks, although Corvallis bans dogs from five parks, Gresham bans dogs from sports fields and Carmel, Calif., has one park that is off-limits to canines.

Sonoma, Calif., doesn't allow dogs in its parks or public square. It does have one dog park.

Currently, a person can be fined $142 for taking a dog to a park in Ashland, not picking up a pet's waste or letting a dog roam off leash, Parks and Recreation Director Don Robertson said.

Most of the residents at Monday's forum were in favor of allowing dogs in more parks, although some were opposed to the idea. Many participants said Ashland needs to post signs in parks warning of the fines. If dogs are allowed in parks, there should be signs warning about fines for not picking up waste, and for not having the animal on a leash.

"What we're hearing here tonight that's coming through loud and clear is we need to work harder to let people know what the consequences are," Robertson said.

He said police and park patrol officers usually warn people who are breaking the city's dog laws, rather than issue tickets. But last year park patrol started writing down the names of frequent offenders so they could be ticketed, Robertson said.

Many of the people at the forum said they would like officers to give out tickets more readily, especially to people who don't clean up their dog's waste.

The parks department should also provide waste bag dispensers if it allows dogs in more parks, they said.

The parks department does provide waste bag dispensers at the entrances to its properties where dogs are allowed, such as the forested Siskiyou Mountain Park and Oredson-Todd Woods, Robertson said.

Those properties in Ashland's hills are laced with popular trails.

Ashland resident Vanston Shaw said the city should pass a law that a person walking a dog must have a waste disposal bag visibly tied to the leash.

"It raises the level of awareness that you need to have your doggy bag," Shaw said.

Some participants proposed opening up a few off-limits parks to dogs on a trial basis.

Perhaps upper Lithia Park could be opened to dogs so that residents and tourists could take their pets there, they suggested.

City officials and local businesses regularly field complaints from tourists who are upset by the town's restrictions on dogs. Letters complaining about the laws also appear occasionally in the Ashland Daily Tidings.

Several residents said that it's hard for elderly and disabled people to go to many of the undeveloped areas where dogs are allowed. Dog owners also often have to drive to areas where their dogs are allowed, and can't use parks near their homes.

Several suggested that Ashland should have a second dog park on the southeast side of town. Ashland's dog park is off of Nevada Street on the northwest side.

Many people acknowledged that dogs can cause problems by chasing wildlife and intimidating or chasing children, joggers, hikers and others.

Robertson said most of the e-mails he gets support keeping the ban on dogs in most parks. He estimated that sentiment is about evenly split in Ashland over whether to keep or loosen existing regulations.

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