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Wednesday, January 26, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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No dogs allowed: New signs will reinforce bans at beaches, fields

Seattle Times staff reporter

Seattle has so many perfect places to run around that a dog might forgive being forced to wear a bandanna around its neck and respond to names like Precious.

Unfortunately for the dogs, they can't run through all those places, or be there at all. Playgrounds, beaches and athletic fields - all prime dog-roaming territory - are off-limits, whether the dog is on a leash or not. Still, many dog owners ignore the law. So last week, the Board of Park Commissioners decided to erect 400 new signs at public parks throughout the area. The 12-by-18-inch signs will detail, in language plain enough for a poodle to understand, exactly what the 23-year-old law is.

Over the next two months, the signs, which warn of fines up to $150, will appear at some of the places where the law seems to go unnoticed most frequently.

The fine for having a dog in an off-limits area starts at $50 for a first offense. The fine climbs to $100, $125, and $150 for repeat offenders. What's more, having your dog on a city beach or letting it swim in a pond at a city park could cost you $500.

Last month, Seattle's two animal-control patrol officers wrote 88 citations and issued 15 warnings for having dogs in prohibited areas.

"Either people don't know the law or they choose to ignore it," said Dewey Potter, department spokeswoman.

Potter said the department was still determining the cost of the signs, and their posting will not coincide with any increase in patrols by Seattle Animal Control. The chances of people being caught will remain the same.

The department's action comes more than two years after the City Council created areas around the city where dogs could roam free. The off-leash areas - there are now seven - were intended to provide the space dogs need to exercise properly.

Sally Cope, who helped get a nine-acre space with beach access in Magnuson Park, said the off-leash experiment has been successful so far. On a recent Sunday, she said, she counted more than 100 people out with their dogs at the park.

But not every dog owner has taken to the enclosed areas. Yesterday at Golden Gardens Park, a dozen dogs ran about or caught rubber balls in a small area enclosed by a wooden fence. Nearby, their owners socialized.

Rew and Amy Adams played fetch with their two Labrador retrievers, Colby and Banjo. The couple comes to the area just about every day for 30 minutes of exercise. For longer outings, they head to larger spaces in Redmond or to Everett, where dogs are allowed on the beach.

Rew Adams said they wouldn't take the dogs to the beaches in Seattle because they didn't want to risk the maximum $500 fine. He said they tolerated the off-leash areas, which are plagued by poorly trained dogs, because they have no choice.

"At times, we feel like we're second-class citizens just because we have dogs," he said.

Several people decided to risk the fine and allow their dogs along the beach, keeping a constant eye out for animal control.

Britten Clark said the off-leash areas tended to be too crowded and too muddy for his dog, Julio, to get the exercise he needs.

Clark knows he faces a stiff penalty if caught. "But this is the only place Julio can really run," he said. "The law seems a little outrageous."

Beth Rieke was unaware that by taking her roommate's dog, Leila, to the beach she could end up $500 poorer. When told the amount, her eyes widened and she said her days strolling with a dog on the beach were over.

Rieke's reaction is what the parks department is hoping for by installing the new signs. People will still be able to take a dog on a leash to a city park, as long as it's not in one of the three forbidden areas - playgrounds, beaches and athletic fields.

Even with 400 new signs, there is no guarantee people will take note. Before heading out on the beach with Leila, Rieke had to walk by a sign plainly stating she was about to break the law.

"I guess I didn't see it," she said. "I don't really pay attention to signs.

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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