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Off-leash dog are the fastest-growing segment of city parks, according to a study by the non-profit Trust for Public Land. There were 569 off-leash dog parks in the 100 largest cities in 2010, a 34% jump in five years. Parks overall increased only 3% in that time. This increase in dog parks mimics demographic trends. There are now more households with dogs (43 million) than with kids (38 million).
“It’s a playground for people without kids. There was a playground movement 100 years ago,” says Peter Harnik, director of the Center for City Park Excellence at The Trust for Public Land. “In the last 15 to 20 years, it’s these off-leash dog areas. There’s a tremendous upsurge in demand and love for them.”

“It’s socializing for both” the dogs and the owners, says Maria Goodavage, a San Francisco writer and mom (of a kid and a dog) who founded the Dog Lover’s Companion series of guide books for dog owners and author of the upcoming Soldier Dogs: Untold Stories of America’s Canine Heroes. “I met my husband in a dog area,” she says.

Dog owners have become a powerful lobby, Goodavage says, because they feel that “these children of ours are furry, they have four legs but we’re still paying taxes to be here and we still want our recreational needs met.”

In 2010, in the thick of the sour economy, voters did not have much enthusiasm for a $17 million park bond measure to protect 80 acres of open space, including the dog park. That’s when dog owners jumped into action and attended Portland City Hall meetings printed banners and circulated fliers. The measure passed

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