One of my first memories after moving to Portland with my family 15 years ago was taking our beloved dog, Greta, for hikes and jogs throughout the region’s parks and trails.
But I quickly learned through my job at Metro Parks and Nature that my organization doesn’t allow dogs and other pets – except for service animals – at most of Metro’s 17,000 acres of parks and natural areas, though dogs are allowed on designated regional trails and boat ramps. It’s a policy that some dog owners disagree with, but as a longtime dog owner, it’s one that I’ve come to understand and appreciate after learning the reasons why.
At the core of all of Metro’s voter-approved investments is our region’s priority to protect clean water, fish and wildlife habitat, and to create opportunities for people to connect with nature close to home.
Dogs and other pets can damage sensitive habitat and threaten wildlife the region has worked hard to protect. Strong scientific data show that animals think of dogs – even the friendliest ones – as predators.
Animals have a keen sense of sight, smell and hearing. The presence of a dog, even on a leash, will disrupt their normal behaviors and force many to avoid going near trails. Numerous scientific studies show that in natural areas where dogs are not allowed, people see more wildlife and get closer to it.
Among the 100 largest cities in America, Portland already leads the country with the most off-leash dog parks per capita, with 5.4 such parks per 100,000 residents, according to the 2015 City Park Facts report from The Trust for Public Land.
People have many options when they want to spend time outdoors with their pets, but very few places they can depend on to protect sensitive habitat and provide a unique experience in nature so close to home. At Metro destinations, visitors get special opportunities to see native Swainson’s thrush in the ancient forest at Oxbow Regional Park along the Sandy River, white-crowned sparrows in the open prairies at Cooper Mountain Nature Park near Beaverton and black-tailed deer at Graham Oaks Nature Park in Wilsonville.
These are just a few of the native animals, some rare and elusive, that would be significantly affected if dogs were regularly allowed. In particular, birds that nest on or near the ground would decline in numbers if dogs were allowed.
Although Metro doesn’t allow dogs at most of our sites, we believe it’s important to invest in parks, trails and natural areas where dogs are allowed, on leash or off. Metro has supported a number of dog-friendly destinations throughout the region with money from the natural areas bond measures voters approved in 1995 and 2006.
These bond measures designated money – $44 million in the 2006 bond and $25 million in the 1995 bond – to local cities, counties and parks providers to acquire land or make improvements. Voter investments have supported dog-friendly destinations such as Forest Park in Portland, Cook Park in Tigard, Hood View Park in Happy Valley and dozens of other sites.
Like my family, many others depend on these parks as places to exercise and explore with their dogs.
Greta died a few years ago after being with us for 12 years. I’ll always treasure the memories of our family spending time with her outdoors, as well as our new adventures with Stella, our current dog. But I also treasure the moments with my family seeing Western painted turtles basking in the sun at Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area and Western gray squirrels scurrying from branch to branch at Mount Talbert Nature Park. And I hope we all have many more opportunities to do so.