There are several ways for children to safely have fun at West Bloomfield Parks and Recreation facilities, such as skateboarding and swimming.
Playing with dogs at the Off-Leash Dog Area (OLDA) is no longer one of them, after a unanimous vote last week by the Parks and Recreation Commission to change rules, increasing the minimum age of children at the dog park from 5 to 14.
The recommendation has long been favored by parks staff, said Director Dan Navarre, but was voted down the last time it came before the commission about six or seven years ago.
"The last time, the commission said that the rules shouldn’t have to regulate how parents control their children," said commissioner Carol Hack, adding that she supported the rule change as a member of the commission at the time and still does for the same reasons.
"Children and dogs at the park can run faster than the adults, creating a moving target for the dogs to play with."
Although the current rules stipulate that there is no running allowed at the park, Navarre said that dogs have unintentionally injured children whose parents allowed for the rules to be broken at least twice in the past year alone.
Dogs in such cases were individually judged as to whether or not they would be allowed back in the park, creating an unfair environment for dog park permit holders, Navarre added.
Several park users, whom Navarre pointed out as long-time permit holders since opening about 11 years ago, spoke out in favor of the change at the meeting in Town Hall Thursday evening.
"I am now to the point where if there is any child that comes to the park, I gather my guys and leave because I don’t want there to be any kind of problem," said Kathy Barney, who said she owns two dogs.
"I’m a responsible owner. I’m on them all the time, but things happen, very quickly there, with little ones."
Permit holders, who must be 18 years old at the time of registration, are legally responsible for their dogs and injuries caused by the dogs at the park.
The change was made effective immediately after the vote and will be explained through signage which is expected to be posted soon after the vote. Children ages 14-17 are still allowed in the dog park with a permit holder.
"We will, as a staff, put together all the different ways we can get the word out as fast as possible," Naverre said. "It may take a little learning curve in the next few months."
Hack expressed confidence that the change will make a more-enjoyable parks experience for the community in general.
"It's not a park for children. It's not even a park for adults. It's a park for dogs to run unleashed and that has consequences," she said.
The three-acre park is located at Karner Farm off a dirt stretch of Halsted Road, north of Maple Road. For a $30 annual fee, residents may bring up to three dogs year-round.
For information on OLDA from West Bloomfield Parks and Recreation, follow these links: