St. Paul dog owners straining at the leash


Minnesota boasts at least 40 official dog parks. Among cities, Minneapolis and Eden Prairie host the highest number of parks, with five and six respectively. In the city of St. Paul, there are an estimated 40,000 households with dogs, surpassing the 31,000 households with children. Yet the city of St. Paul has only one official dog park—at the intersection of Arlington Avenue and Arkwright Street in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood. Since its opening in 2000, Arlington/Arkwright park usage has dramatically increased, and it’s estimated that over 1,000 dog owners use the park each week.

The St. Paul off-leash task force meets on the fourth Thursday of each month. For more information, contact Eric Thompson (

To get involved in advocacy for dog parks, contact Jan Carr (

St. Paul dog owner Jan Carr has conducted considerable personal research on the subject of dog parks. “What you’ll find,” says Carr, “is that some communities are dog park friendly, others not. For example, in South St. Paul, 50 to 60 acres of an old landfill area are being turned into a city park. The [local parks] director, Christopher Esser decided on his own that the first amenity should be a dog park. There are a lot of people in South St. Paul that have dogs.”

In January of this year, a range of issues with the Arlington/Arkwright park gave rise to the creation of an off-leash task force. The group includes representatives from each St. Paul ward, as well as Eric Thompson, security manager for St. Paul Parks and Recreation. Thompson created the task force to address growing concerns about the use of the park.

“Really, this task force has two functions,” says Thompson. “To create and put a five-year plan in place for on-going sustainability of the Arlington/Arkwright off-leash park, and to help identify where additional parks can go and what they will look like.”

Problems regarding the operation of the park have provoked complaints from neighbors. An Arlington/Arkwright neighbor has complained to Thompson about noise and parking issues on different occasions. “The dogs are barking at all hours of the day and night and disturbing my kids’ sleep at night and in the morning,” the neighbor wrote in an e-mail to Thompson. “The dog people park all up and down our street…which is already very busy and has no sidewalks. This makes it a very dangerous and upsetting situation since our kids have to walk in the street coming from the bus stop.”

Dog park users have complaints of their own. Dirt and leaves have built up by a section of the Arkwright street fence, potentially making it easier for dogs to jump over the fence. Some paths are difficult to walk on due to their steep angle and rough surface. In addition, some dog owners have complained about the park being overcrowded, especially on weekends. Having too many dogs in one place can impair the ability of owners to monitor their dogs vigilantly and can lead to fighting among the dogs. Users argue that the park’s overuse is testament to the great need for additional off-leash sites in St. Paul.

Last summer, based on growing issues and complaints regarding the Arlington/Arkwright park, Thompson met with representatives from a local group called Off Leash Advocates. He asked group members to take on a more structured advisory role. According to Off Leash Advocates president Lis Cappiello, “We formalized because there needed to be a group to deal with different issues with the park, to organize park clean-ups [and] maintenance, [to] work with neighborhood issues and to advocate for more dog parks.”

Thompson notes that other park programs have inspired similar advocacy groups. “The Department of Parks and Recreation is very supportive of off-leash dog activity…[Dog parks provide] an opportunity for people to socialize, gather in a park space, exercise, and interact with neighbors.”

There are two main types of dog parks, says Cappiello. “Some residents want a small local park, near their home for quick use every day. Others want a larger park, a destination park with more acreage and space to run.” Her feeling is that both types of parks are needed to adequately deal with the community needs.

A key issue, and a controversial one, is whether or not to charge a usage fee to help fund the management and improvement of the parks. Based on her research, Jan Carr estimates that 90% of dog parks countrywide charge usage fees. St. Paul’s Eric Thompson, however, has reservations about charging usage fees. “Not everybody can afford to pay a fee. Will there be sliding fee scales? We have to consider everyone’s viewpoint.”

The Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board has charged annual permit fees since the opening of the city’s first off-leash dog area in 2001. Minneapolis residents currently pay $35 for a resident’s first dog and $25 for each additional dog. Park users not residing in Minneapolis pay $60 for a first dog and $35 for each additional dog. Thus far, the Minneapolis fees have not sparked significant controversy.

According to Dawn Sommers, public information manager for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, the initial work of a community advisory committee was crucial. “We went through the citizen advisory function [and involved] a lot of dog owners. There were open houses, media reports, and news releases. Fees were part of the discussions, so there were no surprises.”

Cappiello is against usage fees, but believes they are unavoidable. “If we do have to pay a fee,” she says, “I’d like to see more amenities such as double gates, good fencing, biodegradable bags, picnic tables, and even restroom facilities. But [I’d prefer] the parks to be low maintenance in order to keep them free.” If fees are to be assessed, she says she would like to see a sliding fee scale—or for fees to be waived in exchange for volunteer service.

Although the St. Paul task force has several issues to resolve, dog owners are optimistic that they will see at least plans for a new location within the next year. “In an ideal situation,” says Carr, “we will have off-leash areas separately fenced and away from residential areas…[although there are] not many locations that lend themselves to this.”

Betsy Mowry ( works as an arts administrator with COMPAS and the Arts & Culture Partnership of St. Paul.

17 thoughts on “St. Paul dog owners straining at the leash

  1. I don’t care if the park is free or if I have to pay— St Paul is DESPERATE for more off-leash parks. Build both, build many of them!

  2. I was very pleased to see ongoing discussion towards more dog parks. I was part of the first StPaul Task Force back in 1999-2000, who established the Awkright Arlington Site. It was a long journey and we were turned down frequently for space in large part because Soccer playing fields were more of a priority back then. Socializing our dogs goes a long ways towards developing quieter and happy dogs. The overuse issue with Awkright/Arlington Park was always a great concern, as there weren’t many options for dog owners. We need more space and deserve to be recognized as legitimate park users who happen to have dogs and not children in many cases. I support this issue and give many thanks for the work Mr. Jan Carr has done in organizing this group who currently are involved in the search for new space. Let your voices be heard if you want Off Leash Parks to become a priority for the city parks folks to consider.

  3. The issue of bringing more dog parks to St. Paul is now under study by a Parks Commission task force. I am but a member of the task force, and any inquiries pertaining to the mission of the task force should be directed to Eric Thompson (

    However, proposing more such parks is one thing, getting them approved through the political process is another —- and that won’t happen without a strong citizens advocacy campaign.

    And that’s why we are forming a group to organize and support efforts to establish more dog parks — especially in the western areas of the city. If you are a St. Paul resident and interested in joining the cause, send me an email at (

    We need to help the parks department and our elected officials understand the following:

    1) There is wide spread demand for more dog parks. Based on census data, we estimate there are 96,000 people in STP who own 67,000 dogs, and a great many of these folks are looking for a space close to their neighborhood where they can exercise their dogs off leash.

    2) The intense use of Arlington certainly demonstrates the need for more dog parks in other parts of the city. From what I have observed, the complaints about Arlington have been few, and driven by a small number of persistent critics.

    3) Since its inception, the parks department has invested virtually nothing (save a new double gate) in the Arlington facility. The great majority of complaints have revolved around users parking on the street, and it is high time the parks department spend some money to reconfigure the presently inadequate parking lot.

    4) Nearly all dog park users are willing to pay a permit fee, as long as those revenues are specifically earmarked for improvements and new off-leash areas around the city.

    5) Finally, and most important, these park spaces are not so much for dogs as they are for the people who own the dogs. You might say that building a park for dogs is a little like saying you are building a golf course for golf balls.

    Progressive park managers recognize that dog parks are a legitimate use of park land, which accounts for the rapid growth of dog parks nationally – from 700 two years ago to a present estimate of 2000. And ironically, dog parks invariably become the most popular amenity in a city’s park system, since they are used year-round on a daily basis.

    Jan Carr
    St. Paul 55104

  4. Some of us have dogs that need to run and exercise, regardless of the time of day or the weather – if not in a park, then elsewhere. The increase in locations will take some of the burden off of the Arlington/Arkwright neighborhood. And, I agree with Kris, Jan has been a good advocate, and has taken the time to let people know what’s going on.

  5. No one wants to listen to dog noise pollution- it has a serious effect on the health of people who are subjected to it.

    Please do not be rude non- responsible bad dog people and inflict quiet decent people with your dogs horrible racket.

    “The dogs are barking at all hours of the day and night and disturbing my kids’ sleep at night and in the morning”.

    This is very unfair and can have a lasting bad effect on childrens health.

    “Cappiello is against usage fees” Dog lovers need to pay for there dogs recreational areas it is unfair to tax everyone because some people choose to own dogs and don’t have the space to take proper care of them.

    This site has some solutions to the linked problems of dog noise pollution and dog attacks.

  6. I would like to express my support for neighborhood off leash dog parks in St. Paul. One off leash dog park is not enough for our city. We need more parks and we need them in our neighborhoods.

    I don’t have children. I have a golden retriever (licensed and vaccinated, of course). There are parks for everyone in St. Paul: basketball, football, tennis, playgrounds, golf courses, walking/biking trails, beaches, community centers, cross country ski trails- non of these parks are as frequented at the Arlington off leash dog park or the Battle Creek dog park. I (and many others) use the off leash dog parks every day- including Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year’s, Martin Luther King day, when it’s 20 below wind chill, when it’s 90 degrees with 80% humidity, week days, weekends, nights, afternoons. Dog people have to walk their dogs daily.

    Off leash dog parks support many of the visions and goals of St. Paul—–to name a few:

    Sustainability- The city of St. Paul supports environmental sustainability. Walkable neighborhood dog parks would support that vision.

    Community- Neighborhood off leash parks would support and increase community in St. Paul. People who use dog parks use them everyday and interact while their dogs play. I would love to get to know more of my neighbors in my community.

    Safe communities- Socialize and exercise dogs in St. Paul create less dog related problems like excessive barking, dog bites from not being socialized, dog yard escapes… After all a tired dog is a good dog. :) That’s my motto at home.

    Off leash dog parks supply a need to the citizens of St. Paul.

    I don’t have children but yet I pay taxes for education, parks, community centers. I am made to feel like a criminal for trying be a responsible dog owner and citizen. The American dream is to own a home (to have 2.5 children) and a dog. Where does a person go to play fetch with their dog if it’s illegal to have the dog off leash? Golden retrievers need a lot more exercise than a person can give them on a leash.

    My home is starter home and as soon as this housing market turns around I’ll be selling and purchasing a different home. I love St. Paul but I have to consider crossing the river to a community that can better meet my needs as a dog owner, citizen and tax payer. I hope that St. Paul will step up and become a progressive and inclusive city for all of it’s citizens.

    Minneapolis (and many many other communities across the nation) has/have successful programs that St. Paul could model after.

    I’m educated, work for local government, a volunteer, responsible home owner who takes pride in my home and community. Does St. Paul want to maintain citizens like me?

    Thank you for your time and consideration.

    Jen T

  7. I think it is outrageously irresponsible to infiltrate neighborhood’s with these dog parks without any concern for the surrounding community. If the dogs are allowed to bark and disturb others, they should not be allowed in the parks or around the neighborhoods. It’s also unreasonable and ridiculous to overpopulate these parks with irresponsible owners and ill-mannered dogs, destroy the environment with their noise and smell and yet keep the parks free? Large entrance fees or membership fees should be imposed along with restrictive licensing. If your dog is so untrained that it becomes a nuisance with either noise, aggression or any out-of-control behavior, it’s not allowed.

  8. For the people who have posted concerns that these dog parks will cause a nuisance and/or will be imposed on neighborhoods without regard for the surrounding people should read this closer. The whole point of this is to NOT impose a dog park on a neighborhood that doesn’t want it. To put them where they most make sense. The fact that the current dog park is over crowded is testament to the fact that more are needed. These parks do get used and are a needed public service. Going back to a comment that was made about dog attacks. Many dog attacks occur because dogs aren’t socialized. When people come do dog parks they are allowed to socialize and learn what behaviors are allowable. The attacks that you would be speaking would most likely come from dogs that have never been to a dog park mainly because their owners are irresponsible. Many of you with negative comments seem to be against dog parks in general and at least one of you has posted that you have kids. Well, dogs are like kids to many of us. You wouldn’t say that parks shouldn’t be allowed or should have high entrance fees for your kids would you? Kids make just as much noise or more than dogs on playgrounds and other places. Should those be eliminated too? Us quiet people can’t have the racket from your awful kids screaming all throughout the day. My cat naps cannot be disturbed. Finally, imposing high entrance fees will do nothing but make land underused and push people to not go to dog parks, keep their dogs unsocialized at home and making racket in your own back yards rather than a designated area. In conclusion, dog owners are tax payers too. Those that go to dog parks are generally good dog owners. There are always exceptions but they are just that, EXCEPTIONS. We all pay for ALL of the parks for the good of our communities. There should be no difference as to whether the park is meant to be for your kids or someone else’s dogs.

  9. As a dog owner in this neighborhood, I cannot help but input my observations.

    I live a block and a half away. I grew up in a quiet suburb of Minneapolis and I have to say this is one of the cleanest parks I’ve ever been to. Most of the owners are very responsible about picking up the dog droppings, even other people’s! I take my dog to that park every chance I get. I’ve spent many many hours there. There is a parking lot that people use, sure, a few park on the street, but I know most of the patrons either walk or use the parking lot. There’re some multi-family housing across the street, I know a lot of the cars on the street belong to visitors or residents there instead of the park patrons.

    As far as the noise pollution goes, the dogs do not bark a lot unless they’re playing and usually the owners control them after a while, and there’s rarely anyone there after dark, so how can the barking be so intrusive that your children are being woken up? Also, I know there are some unsupervised kids that were told by their “responsible and concerned” parents to “go to the dog park so you can get used to them.” I’ve seen this personally. The kids come running up to the fence, climbing over instead of using the gates, waving sticks, throwing rocks, and yelling at our dogs. Calling out “Come here dog!” loudly, then when the dogs to toward them, they start screaming and yelling at our dogs, making more noise than the dogs. Our dogs didn’t do anything wrong, why should they be yelled at? On top of being totally unsafe, they provoke them to bark and then blame us for having bad dogs. How is that fair?

    If fees are to be imposed, I’d like to see better fencing to keep the kids at a safer distance or some type of observation area, double gates to prevent accidental escapes, some sort of shelter for our unpredictable weather, expand the park area since it can be a bit crowded at times, and a restroom. If street parking is an issue, zone for more parking. This park is perfect the way it is, but if the city or the neighborhood wants to change it, they need to make changes to accommodate both dog owners and non-dog owners. If it’s too noisy, put up a sound barrier; if the kids feel unsafe, don’t come into the park, there is a huge area outside the fence that is wide open. Imposing a fee without making any changes will not solve any problems.

  10. Dialog such as this is very useful and needs to happen in more communities. Some city councils decide on locations without fully comprehending the ramifications and many of the problems that can occur could be limited or eliminated altogether by locating such parks more thoughtfully.

    It is also important to educate dog owners as to the proper use and etiquette of dog parks. Dogs should be properly trained and socialized and, quite frankly, there are some dogs that simply should not be taken to a dog park.

  11. The Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board has charged annual permit fees since the opening of the city’s first off-leash dog area in 2001. Minneapolis residents currently pay $35 for a resident’s first dog and $25 for each additional dog. Park users not residing in Minneapolis pay $60 for a first dog and $35 for each additional dog. Thus far, the Minneapolis fees have not sparked significant controversy.

    The fees are -in addition to- the yearly pet license fee.

  12. As the staff person for St. Paul Parks and Recreation assigned to this program, I am continually pleased to see such educated discussion surrounding off-leash recreation (ie. dog parks)

    The biggest issue I want to clarify – and some of you have made reference to it, is that “dog parks” aren’t parks for dogs – they are parks for people. We are making progress identifying new park locations. We recently received approval to include an 8 acre off-leash area into the master plan for Lilydale Regional Park.This will be a great asset to the system. Unfortunately it is still a few years away from reality.

    In addition, I manage a citizen group of off-leash supports who together help me identify potential park sites, develop educational information which can be shared with the public, help organize off-leash recreation activities designed to promote the benefits of this activity, and lastly help guide the Parks and Recreation Commission of issue related to this controversial topic.

    I encourage any of you to contact me with comments, concerns or ideas on how to enhance the recreation opportunities for people and their pets. Woof!


  13. what about child noise pollution? It’s not my fault you couldn’t keep a condom on and had kinds. I’ve been trying to sleep when I have to be up for work at 5am and my neighbors kid was crying till 4:30am. That has a lasting effect on my health. And when I come out side the other neighbors kid is throwing rocks at my car…that seems like a little bit more of a problem to me. If dog owners have to pay a fee to use a park than why don’t parents? why should everyone have to pay for the parks for them to play at when I don’t have any kids?

  14. “No one wants to listen to dog noise pollution- it has a serious effect on the health of people who are subjected to it. ”

    If a dog is barking 24 hours a day something is wrong and can be reported to the city.

    There are no serious studies that say that dog barking is any more of health hazard than car noise, children yelling, airplanes flying overhead… If you want a noiseless existence my suggestion is to move to Nebraska.

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