HOLMBERG: What’s up with the humans barking at Barker Field?

Posted at 11:50 PM, Oct 10, 2014

HOLMBERG- On Tuesday Richmond Police rolled five-deep on Barker Field, Richmond's busiest dog park, "where a dog can be a dog."

They were called in because of human snarling over one of the two-legged regulars bringing in his 9-year-old daughter.

David Bender's fur is still a little ruffled about it.

"I pay taxes, I support the dog park," he said a little heatedly while sitting on one of the park's picnic tables this rainy Friday afternoon. "I've been coming here for a decade. I think its ridiculous that I can't bring a 9-year-old girl in the dog park."

While we talked for this story, another regular, Peter Shaw, strolled over and added his thoughts. The next thing you know, they were almost snarling.

"What's going to happen is your kid is going to get hurt, right," Shaw said. "And the dog park goes away."

"Then why don't you ban the elderly and the handicapped?" countered Bender.

Shaw said anyone foolish enough to bring their children inside the enclosure where the dogs run free should be charged with child neglect.

Bender countered that he knows his daughter and the park and it should be his decision.

It was much milder barking than what brought the cops Tuesday. In that case, the person who confronted Bender was very nearly arrested.

It wasn't Bender's first tussle with that regular, and the park has had other incidents and arguments over the rules - in one case a pistol was allegedly drawn.

This is, I believe, the oldest dog park on city property. It sits on an edge of Byrd Park. It opened after a private one on Monument Avenue closed. It's certainly the most-used dog park in the area.

For years, there was no age limit for humans. Then there was an 8-year age minimum, which is still the case over at the city's East End Bark Park below Chimborazo Hill.

About a year ago, Barker Field's board decided to raise the limit to 12.

It's an issue across the country as cities weigh the risks and liabilities against free park access.

Many Barker Field users agree with the age limit.

"Things can get a little rough with the dogs," said Tad Grenga. "But as long as it's between the dogs - no harm no foul. "But when you bring kids into the situation, it can get a little hairy, I think."

It can get a little rough in the park, with dogs racing around, wrestling and sometimes fighting. Adults can get knocked down.

Maggie Erbaugh said she has enough to worry about just watching her dog, Harriett, interact with the other dogs. "I don't want to have to worry about a legal issue if children are involved."

Parker Agelasto, representing this 5th District on Richmond's City Council, says he's been monitoring the situation. He said there's been some confusion about the enforceability of the rules established by the Barker Field board. Those who break the rules can be banned from the park (subject to appeal), but not arrested.

There are those who want to put some more bite into the rules by making them law, but Agelasto said that would take time and actually diminish the ability of the board to adjust the rules as they see fit.

It's an interesting place, used by a wide range of humans and canines. There are strong passions at Barker Field, some cliques, friendships, romances and numerous people committed to keeping Barker Field healthy.

Maybe keeping the dogs barking is worth a little human barking, as long as they don't start biting.

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