| Animals |

Pepper-Sprayed Puppy Inspires Call for Off-Leash Hours at Denver Parks

Sydney Gilpin and Mary Francis, from left, with their dogs.
Sydney Gilpin and Mary Francis, from left, with their dogs.
Photo courtesy of Mary Francis
Keep Westword Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

The level of tension between visitors to parks in Denver's Highland neighborhood and dog owners who let their pets run off-leash "is pretty insane," says resident Mary Francis. "People are openly yelling at each other at the park."

That's bad enough — but then one of Francis's neighbors saw something that "caused quite a hullaballoo," she recalls. "A woman walked up to a five-month-old puppy and just pepper-sprayed it in the face" — and subsequent reports suggest that this wasn't an isolated incident.

To Francis, who owns a golden retriever named Misiu, such incidents seem wholly unnecessary. "I understand why people are upset about it, but I also understand why dog owners want to go out and exercise their dogs," she says.

She's now trying to provide another alternative. In conjunction with ten-year-old Sydney Gilpin, another neighbor, who opted to attend school remotely so that she could walk her own dog to the park in the mornings, she's launched a change.org petition calling for dogs to be allowed off-leash in Denver parks between the hours of 9 p.m. and 9 a.m.

The model for the plan is New York City, which has allowed what its park department refers to as "courtesy hours" in designated areas of parks since May 2007. "Over the past twenty years," the department says, "this policy has kept parks and neighborhoods safer, allowed owners to exercise and socialize their dogs, and reduced the number of dog bites."

Francis, who learned about New York's approach during a visit there, thinks that implementing something similar in Denver would address a series of problems. "There are very few dog parks — only twelve in Denver proper — and something like 158,000 dogs in the city," she notes, adding that some of those parks "aren't well maintained. They're full of gravel, and my dog won't even walk on it. If I take her there, she just lays down."

Moreover, many people aren't able to access those dog parks. Sydney, for example, "doesn't have a car," Francis says, chuckling as she name-checks her colleague.

She also points to scads of studies showing that "dogs need to exercise and socialize to fit into their community."

In addition to creating the petition, Francis has reached out to her Denver City Council rep, District 1 representative Amanda Sandoval. Gina Volpe, an aide to Sandoval, says that office plans to contact the Denver City Attorney's staff to learn more about whether such a change would be possible through rule tweaks or legislative changes.

Francis also connected with Denver Parks and Recreation. The department "welcomes comments and will evaluate all ideas and suggestions offered," says spokesperson Cynthia Karvaski, who points out that "unlike NYC, our parks are closed between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., and remaining in any park property during these hours is prohibited." Without altering these regulations, though, off-leash hours under the Francis-Gilpin proposal would still be possible from 9 to 11 p.m. and 5 to 9 a.m.

In Francis's view, there's growing support for her petition, which has collected 391 signatures as of March 1. "I don't think dog owners are trying to intentionally flout the law," she emphasizes. "I just think we have very few options, and we all live in the same community. I think there's a solution for it."

One that doesn't include pepper-spraying any puppies.

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.