Speakeasy Dog Parks in Tenleytown

Notes from the Dog Owner’s Underground

by A Dog Owner in Tenleytown

© Copyright David Lally and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

© Copyright David Lally and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.

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.

Artzenter, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

two dogs playing

For obvious reasons, the author of this piece has asked to remain anonymous.


  • Perhaps you should give dog owners a way to contact you (google doc, etc.) in order to further the discussion!

  • Granted, it is not in Tenleytown, but not far. The Chevy Chase Park, on Livingston Street just west of Reno Road, is open for dogs from 6:30 a.m. ’til 8:30 a.m. every day. The park consists of a baseball diamond, and dogs are allowed to run off leash. Within the larger park is a dog park which is open all the time. While it is not large, it is better than most — gravelly surface, water, and a hose to rinse off your dog if needed. The dogs’ humans are encouraged to contribute $ once a year to pay for upkeep and the salary of a woman who comes in to clean up in case some human did not pick up after his/her dog. There are poop bags available. A very nice crowd of dogs and humans — all sizes and ages of both! Ann Ingr

    • Hi, Ann – Thanks for your comment! Indeed, that dog park was one I faithfully went to in the early morning all winter long, trudging through the snow until this spring when the anger of the baseball parents at the dog people bubbled over.

      Police was called a number of times and the sign that allowed the early-morning romping of the dogs was taken down (presumably by the city rec league and not an irate parent whose kid stepped into dog poop…)

      It’s not clear to me whether dogs are still allowed but when I went to check things out there recently there was not a soul of dog or human to be seen. I have not verified this with the rec people for sure but it looks like legal off-leash running of dogs in the actual field there has been curtailed. I will verify this, though, with the appropriate folks there.

      As a parent, I have to say I also felt with the baseball moms and dads – the field was getting a really tough workout with a dozen or more dogs running and scratching there every morning and looked quite beaten up. So, I decided to cede that ground to the kids. And I know of several others who did the same, not wanting to offend the baseball parents more than we already had.

      In sum, it ought not to be a battle between dog owners versus parents and kids – there surely is enough space in places like Reno Park, for instance, for both kids and dogs to have their respective places to run without bumping up against each other.

      The back field at Reno is ideal, for instance – with a fence and the occasional mowing which I am sure we would all contribute to, it could be a great dog meadow without getting into the way of the sports fields and rec activities.

      Maybe it’s time to advocate for this as a community?