There are few urban spaces more fun to visit than a dog park, even if you don’t have a dog.
Dog parks are also essential for the cooped-up city dog without his or her own private field to romp through. And they’re usually a safe alternative to walking the dog. But, as with all publicly run spaces, there is the question of the municipality’s liability. And those kinds of concerns were stopping small and medium-size cities from opening dog parks.
Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), whose district covers Burbank, Glendale, the Hollywood Hills and Silver Lake among other communities, introduced AB 265, which limits the liability that cities and counties face when operating dog parks. He credits Glendale City Council member Laura Friedman with getting him launched on the bill after Friedman told him that one of Glendale's biggest concerns about opening a dog park was the liability. Gov. Jerry Brown (whose own dog, Sutter, has traveled the state) signed the bill into law Monday. The state has similarly imposed limited liability under some conditions for public skate parks.
Letting your canine run at the dog park generally isn’t as risky as skateboarding -- neither you nor your dog is likely to break any bones. But obviously, dogs sometimes do bite or attack people and other dogs. State law already holds dog owners liable for any injury or death caused by their dogs in a dog park. That will continue to be the case. But victims who can’t recover costs from dog owners theoretically could turn to the city or county for damages. The new law makes dog park operators not liable for an injury that results solely from an attack by a dog and is not in any way connected to the operation of the park.
This is a good and smart legal change that should help smaller communities throughout the state set up needed dog parks. And it’s another reminder that owners of dogs need to be careful with their pets no matter where they are. Everyone, human and canine, needs to be responsible in a dog park.