Speakeasy Dog Parks in Tenleytown
Notes from the Dog Owner’s Underground
by A Dog Owner in Tenleytown
Having an active dog off-leash in Tenleytown is like drinking liquor in Prohibition-era speakeasies. Dog owners share secret spots where they let their dogs run during off-hours for short stints before dispersing as quickly as they came, always on the lookout for eager cops ready to ticket this illegality.
I moved to Tenleytown ten months ago with my family. I loved how dog-friendly the neighborhood seemed with kids and puppies teeming on every street around our block. We adopted an active large dog from an animal rescue shelter in the District, and have been searching for places to let her run off-leash in Tenleytown ever since.
Like many municipalities, D.C. has a leash law that stipulates that “no person owning, keeping, or having custody of a dog in the District shall permit the dog to be on any public space in the District, other than a dog park… unless the dog is firmly secured by a substantial leash.”
There are three official dog parks in Ward 3 where dogs are allowed off-leash, none of which are in Tenleytown. All three are concrete, fenced-in enclosures of about 10,000 square feet each; none are large enough for a large dog to really run around. In Cleveland Park, Rosedale offers the one private green park where dogs are allowed off leash during select daytime hours. It is a beautiful park, much loved by dog owners who willingly pay an annual fee to use it.
With a dearth of sanctioned places to run a dog, the enterprising dog-owners of Tenleytown have become creative – albeit outside the bounds of the law. During certain off-hours dog owners secretly convene in open spaces around the neighborhood to let their dogs run, chase balls and each other, and then quietly disappear, waste bags in hand, when the appointed hour is over. Fort Reno Park, local fields, and open lots around Rock Creek Park are all places where dog owners in the know show up clandestinely in the early morning or late evening to chase their dogs around.
Word gets out dog owner by dog owner. I was told of a certain neighborhood meadow by a dog-owning passerby with whom I furtively traded illegal dog park secrets. Dog owners bring water and a good supply of trash bags to those places, and by and large leave the spaces in better shape than before, often picking up and disposing of stray trash in addition to the piles their dogs produce. Peer pressure is strong in the established groups, and no one gets away with having a poorly behaved dog or not properly cleaning up. I have found that dog owners in this neighborhood are extremely diligent and, one could argue, are a good informal neighborhood watch, strolling around at all hours of the day and night.
According to the American Veterinary Association, the District has the lowest rate of dog ownership of any state with just 13.1% of households owning dogs. Statistics for Tenleytown proper were not available from the District Department of Health, even though the department maintains records of dog licenses for the city.
Of course, it’s hard to know whether the lack of dog parks is a matter of people simply owning (for various reasons) fewer dogs than in other places, or whether people decide not to own dogs because it’s hard to keep them in the District without running afoul of the law. I have certainly found it challenging to properly exercise my dog without behaving illegally or driving a great distance to sanctioned dog-friendly places in Maryland.
My fellow dog-owners and I would like greater discussion about creating dog-friendly spots in Tenleytown in public spaces that are currently underutilized – such as empty, sometimes trash-strewn lots – to allow well-behaved, off-leash dogs to play during certain hours. Responsible dog owners would welcome sanctioned spaces to exercise their pets and be more than willing to leave these green spaces better than they found them.
Tenleytown has quite a number of such lots. Ask any dog owner you know with an active dog – chances are we can give you some pointers.
For obvious reasons, the author of this piece has asked to remain anonymous.