Goleta’s Girsh Park, which for the past three years has been home to an off-leash pilot program for dogs and dog owners, officially ended its off-leash program on Thursday, leaving some dog owners frustrated. The multi-use meadow at the private park — owned and operated by the nonprofit Foundation for Girsh Park — had been open from 7-10 a.m. and 1:30-3 p.m. Monday-Friday and from 5-8 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays to members who paid the $65 annual fee.
Yet the program, beloved by neighborhood dog-owners, put a “financial burden on the park,” according to the park’s Executive Director Ryan Harrington. In the past two years, the program’s enrollment dipped so low it no longer paid for its $2,500 annual liability insurance. In 2015, six members signed up, prompting Harrington to end the program, which required constant “policing” by his staff of three people.
Many dog owners used the park without paying and some didn’t pick up after their pets, said Harrington. “It’s not something that coexisted with other programs in the park — especially youth sports,” he said, citing incidents of children being bitten and his staff having to call Animal Control.
Dog owner and paying program member Kathy Gregory first learned of the off-leash area’s impending closure via a notice posted at the park around October. Gregory, who describes the people who used the off-leash area as animal lovers whose dogs are “the mirrors of [their] souls,” believes there is a way to please both Girsh Park administrators and dog owners. For example, the Goleta Valley Dog Club — open to members who pay $50 annually — will continue to use the park for weekly dog agility training classes and other events.
In the meantime, Harrington says Girsh Park is open to program proposals from community members who would like to coordinate a new off-leash plan and pay for liability insurance. “It’s just too much for us to manage ourselves.”