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City's only dog-friendly park remains off-leash
MONROE - The city tweaked its rules for Forest Prairie, the only city park that allows dogs, after a park user walking without a dog complained of feeling threatened.

The new rules will allow dog owners to let their dogs off leash, as long as they do not believe their pet is aggressive. Parks Director Paul Klinzing said the city will leave the decision to leash a dog up to the owner of the animal.

"I think if you're a dog owner, you know whether your dog is being aggressive," Klinzing said.

However, owners are required to carry a leash just in case it is necessary to control their dog. They also have to bring bags to clean up waste. Under the new rules, the owners must also have their dog under voice command and keep their pet within sight. Dogs in heat are prohibited, and all dogs within the park must be legally licensed and vaccinated as well as be wearing ID tags.

Klinzing said the city looked at changing the rules for the park to ensure all users felt safe in the area.

"We are talking about this because of an incident, or incidents, when a resident felt a dog was very aggressive toward him, and I was asked to review the rules," Klinzing said. "This maybe stresses to dog owners to be more responsible so that people using the park who don't have dogs would feel more welcome."

The Monroe Parks and Recreation Board of Commissioners discussed the changes Wednesday. About 12 park users attended to support keeping the park leash-optional.

Sandy Horstmeier, who has used Forest Prairie Park for six years with her two German Shepard mixes, said she has never experienced an incident in the park. It's a much different experience, she said, than dog parks in the Madison area she had used in the past.

"We love it," Horstmeier said. "They come home tired, and a tired dog is a good dog."

Alderman Jeff Newcomer suggested a sign be affixed at the park's entrance, indicating it is a dog-friendly park. Other changes included rewording a request to stay on marked trails, instead making it a recommendation for walkers' safety.

Other dog owners agreed they haven't experienced problems at the park. Beth Wilson, a frequent user of the park, said owners take care to avoid any issues.

"If our dogs misbehave, we let them know," she said.

Others shared the importance of the large span of area, and said the park was a place where their pets learned social skills and allowed owners to become acquaintances. They stressed the importance of the space for dog owners, and indicated that if people want to use city parks, there are a number within city limits; all of which ban all pets, even with leashes.

Steve Wilson said his two dogs are hunting breeds and enjoy the vast area of weeds and dirt.

"You've got this huge park out there," he said. "If you don't allow people to go throughout the entire park, it just seems like a heck of a waste of land."

Park officials voted in favor of the new rules and have plans to put up a new sign outlining the guidelines.