Mayor nixes Oak Harbor off-leash dog park

Mayor Patty Cohen has halted a plan for an off-leash dog park on a piece of city-owned property that an organization wanted to use, citing the possible need to use that property for another purpose.

A group called Free Exercise Time for Canines and their Humans asked the city for placement on the agenda for an upcoming city council meeting. The group wanted to ask the council’s permission to turn a piece of city-owned property at the end of Technical Dr. just outside city limits into a fenced off-leash dog park for North Whidbey residents.

The park would cost the city nothing to set up and maintain, as FETCH members planned to complete the fencing and would be solely responsible for grounds maintenance.

“We had our public meeting (on Sept. 27) and everything looked like it was going great,” said Lori Matteson, Oak Harbor off-leash coordinator for FETCH. Then, the “mayor stopped it,” Matteson said.

In a letter to Island County Commissioner Mac MacDowell, who publicly endorses the establishment of an off-leash dog park on North Whidbey, Cohen said that the proposed site may need to be used instead for a new city animal shelter.

MacDowell supports the idea of an off-leash dog park near Oak Harbor after seeing the success of similar parks on South Whidbey.

The land is an asset for the city, Cohen said in a telephone interview on Friday. If it were “encumbered,” even temporarily, it could not be considered such an asset.

Cohen cited economic and budgetary concerns as her primary reason for denying FETCH’s request.

“I have difficulty with creating a city-sponsored program for animal lovers,” before the city revisits the need for youth and adult programs that have been cut over the past two years because of budget shortfalls, Cohen said.

Additionally, Cohen said she is concerned that the current location of the city animal shelter is on the Seaplane base. New base access restrictions since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have made it difficult for non-military community members to visit the pound and perhaps adopt a homeless pet.

While the Navy has been working to accommodate the city and the animal control officer as best it can, Cohen said, the shelter needs to be relocated off base property.

“I think we need to move that discussion up,” Cohen said.

Meanwhile, Cohen said she hopes that FETCH will look for other opportunities for space for their off-leash dog park, either with Island County or with North Whidbey Parks and Recreation.

“I don’t have anything against dogs. I own a Lab. I am a dog lover,” Cohen said.

You can reach News-Times reporter Christine Smith at or call 675-6611

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