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Get ready for some serious barking.

The city's one-year pilot program for off-leash dog parks will end February 28, and neighbors and pet owners are already baring their teeth. There was much ado about everything last year when the Denver Department of Parks and Recreation floated the idea of creating nine open-space areas where people could let their dogs run free without fear of getting hefty off-leash tickets. Some Cheesman Park residents got so exercised by the thought of peregrinating pooches that the park was finally tossed from the pilot program -- even though more neighborhood feedback forms supported a dog park than opposed it ("The Straight Poop," April 3, 2003).

Neighbors in Ruby Park and Veterans Park also complained, and for a while the entire project seemed in jeopardy as city council members waffled over the controversial proposal. But incoming parks manager Kim Bailey finally gave the pilot project the go-ahead, and five off-leash areas were introduced, most of them in outlying, minority neighborhoods: Fuller Park, at East 29th Avenue and Franklin Street; Berkeley Park, at Tennyson Street and West 46th Avenue; Barnum Park, at Hooker Street and West Fifth Avenue; Kennedy Park, at East Hampden Avenue and South Dayton Street; and Green Valley Ranch East Park, at Jebel Street and East 45th Avenue.

Two of the parks, Fuller and Berkeley, were fenced, while the others relied on natural barriers such as trees and shrubs to keep the dogs in line. Each off-leash area was given a color-coded sign to alert users to the state of their park: If the turf stayed in decent shape and owners picked up the dog poop, then the parks would keep its green light. If not, it could be threatened with closure.

As the year-long project drew to a close, each prototype park had a green light, and users anticipated that all of the off-leash areas would become permanent. Then users of the Fuller Park facility began getting e-mails from city planner Britta Herwing. "In response to poor conditions (not including turf)," she wrote one resident, "we're putting an Œimminent closure' sign up as a reminder to all users that this dog park is not a sure thing and can go away very fast."

Tiffiany Moehring, spokeswoman for the parks department, isn't sure the situation is that dire. "If there's a huge public outcry, then it could close," she says, "but through the pilot, we haven't had that type of information. It would have to be pretty significant to make that happen."

Although Moehring says her office has heard about some minor flare-ups, including user conflicts at Berkeley Park, there have been no reports of dogs putting people in danger. In fact, Doug Kelley, director of Denver Animal Control, says, "It's pretty much been a non-event. When the project started out, we really kind of ramped up with having an animal control officer assigned to each park and them really keeping an eye on what was happening. But we just haven't had complaints, problems, anything. There haven't been any bites reported, haven't been any attacks.

"We have had calls from different parks about dogs playing too rough, and we just encourage people to make sure their dogs are social," he adds. "The biggest problem we have is people walking their dogs to and from the parks off-leash, primarily at Berkley Park. But that happens here; people let their dogs off the leash in the parking lot of Animal Control."

The city is still picking up comments on the program, at community meetings and through an online form available at prdogsoffleash. Input will be accepted until February 18, when the parks department will begin evaluating the data and developing a plan. Bailey intends to make a final decision on the parks' fate before March 15.

Should be a walk in the bark.

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Amy Haimerl

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