A woman on roller blades is injured when a “friendly” off leash dog jumps on her, causing her to fall; an elderly man is hurt when another “friendly” off leash dog knocks him over.
These are but two recent examples of incidents in Northbrook parks where dog owners failed to keep their dogs leashed, and as a result, there were injuries.
Northbrook hasn’t made headlines like Chicago, where last month a 62-year-old jogger was attacked and nearly killed by two unleashed pit bulls. However, as long as village dog owners let their dogs run free where they shouldn’t, injuries are likely to follow. And within the past nine months, complaints have spiked, according to Gina Manski, Northbrook's animal control officer.
“I can tell you from my own knowledge, the complaints used to ebb and flow and are now pretty much constant,” she said. “Not only have complaints been from walkers, joggers and bikers but from other, responsible, dog walkers who have their dog on a leash and other off leash dogs approach them. Not all dogs are ‘dog friendly.’”
Village ordinance requires dogs to be on a leash at all times unless on their owner’s property, or the private property of another with that person’s permission. The Park District has a separate ordinance prohibiting dogs from running off leash in village parks and banning them from golf courses altogether.
According to Manski, it’s mostly the same owners who let their dogs run free, and they know the few places in area parks where animal control officers can hide. So they don’t let their dogs off of their leashes until they know an officer is not present.
“I have caught some repeat offenders twice. Hopefully, after being ticketed twice, people will comply,” Manski said.
Some of those who have been the least happy at Techny Park are actually other dog owners who abide by the law and keep their dogs restrained. Last week, Manski observed an off-leash Yellow Lab that from its owner and began circling a man who had his dog on leash.
“When the lab owner finally got control of her dog, the ‘on leash’ dog owner who had just arrived at the park turned around and left,” she said. “I saw it from the other side of the basin and cited the offending dog owner when I made contact with her.”
Scofflaw St. Bernards. Law-breaking Labradors. Fine-risking Golden Retrievers. They all face penalties. Violators of the park district’s ordinance against dogs off leash can be fined $10, while the village also fines violators anywhere in Northbrook $25 for the first offense, $30 for second, $50 for third and $150 for the fourth. If offenses continue, the fines may climb higher, or an officer may issue a court date. Citations are the sole responsibility of the police department.
Last Monday afternoon, in blustery, gray weather, three people were observed with dogs near Techny basin. One of them, a young man in a hoodie, walked his medium-sized mixed breed dog on a leash. But the other two dog walkers allowed their four legged companions to roam leash free, this despite the fact that the park has signs putting dog owners on notice to leash, curb and clean up after their pets.
On Tuesday, a woman who allowed her golden retriever to run free around Techy basin leashed her dog only before walking the last hundred feet or so out of the park.
In addition to the problem with dogs off leash, Manski said there is ample evidence in the area around Techny basin that some dog walkers are not following local ordinances on pet waste. Dog owners are required to carry the clean up after their pets, and bags are provided at the park, free. When someone doesn’t do their duty, Manski hears about it.
“People aren’t picking up poo!” said a woman named Alice, who declined to give her last name. Walking her Jack Russell terrier, “Button,” on the basin path Wednesday morning, Alice said she seldom returns from the park these days without some of it on her shoes. She said she used to walk her dog off leash fairly often, but has stopped doing so, in part because of stepped up enforcement, in part because of other dogs being off leash, and in part because other park visitors appreciate it.
“Sometimes I’d walk him off [leash] on the Trail Through Time,” she said. “One time I put him on a leash and someone saw it and thanked me.”
Jogger Sam Onbreyt, who runs in Techny Park and Prairie with his granddaughter’s dog, Elsie, said he keeps Elsie on her leash and has not had a problem in the area with unleashed dogs.
Another Techny Park user, Dave Flinn, said he walks his Cavalier King Charles spaniels in the park, mainly in summer, and wouldn’t trust his dogs off of their leashes even if it was legal.
“We walk the circle, and the Trail Through Time, always on leash,” Flinn said. “Charlie and I got skunked on the Trail Through Time.”
As for Manski, with the complaints also comes gratitude: “I have a lot of people stop me when I’m out there, tell me of their negative encounters and thank me for my presence and citing offenders,” she said.