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Binary Man: Kids or Dogs?

Binary Man has come to our planet to settle disputes, solve problems and make life better. Got an issue for him? Post it below or e-mail him.

Even as it slashes library hours and debates a long menu of service cuts, the D.C. government proposes to spend $350,000 to build a recreation area--for dogs. The Dog Exercise Area to be constructed next to the McLean Gardens condo complex in Northwest is part of a $1 million program to set up dog parks throughout the city.

The McLean Gardens dog facility would take up 10 percent of the space in Newark Street Park; the children's playground in the same park covers nine percent of the land there.

Dog lovers in one neighborhood after another have been agitating for these facilities for years, and they've set up well-organized volunteer groups to lobby for improvements, keep the parks clean and comply with the city's regulations.

But even before the recession started pushing local governments into a round of harsh cost-cutting, some neighbors of the proposed dog parks dared to raise their voices against the politically-connected dog lovers, wondering whether public dollars really ought to be invested in dog recreation--especially in a city where schools, parks, libraries and other facilities for children are so desperately in need of basic maintenance and programming.


The District's plan for dog parks involves more than just cordoning off a plot of land for dogs and their owners; the recreation areas are surprisingly expensive cloisters built on special "dog exercise surfaces" made of six inches of compacted stone.

Binary Man never thought it would be necessary to weight the interests of dogs versus that of children, but yes, it has come to this. Across the country, communities have clashed over the allocation of money for dog facilities. The prospect of spending public money on dogs consistently raises hackles among those fighting for dollars for children. Some dog lovers in turn argue that childless people who form close relationships with their pets deserve a cut of public resources.

Opponents of dog parks throw everything they can at the dog folks. In McLean Gardens, the opposition is led by members of the neighborhood's Community Garden Association, who argue that dog parks are incompatible with organic gardening or with the kids' playground. "The $350,000 price tag spent on what is being described as the Taj Mahal of dog parks is stunning," said Linda Blount Berry, vice president of the association, in a press statement. The gardeners note that they have never received any financial support from the city, but rather, have pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own money into creating a space for neighbors to grow their own vegetables.

Dogs vs. kids battles pop up when cities allow dog owners space to let their pets run around unleashed, or when dog owners and parents end up fighting for the same turf, or when a dog bites a kid.

But even without a specific event to force a confrontation, the very notion of setting aside public land for animals is galling to many parents, children and other taxpayers. Even in San Francisco, where dogs outnumber children, Mayor Gavin Newsom recently dared to opine that he'd sooner try to solve the city's homeless problem than devote precious resources to dog facilities.

Binary Man freely concedes that the very concept of having a pet mystifies him. But his many years of experience hearing from readers who do love animals has persuaded him that there is some elemental emotional bond that can develop between man and dog. (Weingarten believes Binary Man's attitude toward animals is evidence that The Man is significantly less than human.)

That said, no matter how emotionally important and useful that relationship can be, the human-animal bond cannot stake a claim to public resources that is even in the same ballpark as the public interest in fostering healthful and educational upbringings for children. From a purely utilitarian perspective, children are future taxpayers; they are the reason for a society or political entity to seek to advance itself. Investment in their futures pays off. Dollars spent on schools, playgrounds, child welfare programs, libraries and so on bring about measurable reductions in the spending that will be necessary down the road on prisons, courts, cops, addiction programs and the like.

But it's also true that governments routinely blow giant piles of money on all sorts of programs that have nothing whatever to do with improving the future. For example, granite curbs, Christmas decorations, or "team-building" retreats.

So allocating some money to give citizens a place to play with their pets is not the end of the world. It should, however, be recognized for what it is: A frill, a luxury, a sign that we live in a very affluent society. And to the extent that the economic collapse is forcing us to confront the possibility of a lower standard of living, this is anything but the time to spend money on dog parks.

Government spending involves making choices and setting priorities. As crass as the dogs vs. children dichotomy may sound, it is an accurate depiction of one of the choices that must be made. And the answer is clear: Children.

Ok, let's hear what you think--Binary Man is ready for the onslaught (so he thinks).

By Marc Fisher |  March 11, 2009; 8:17 AM ET
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In Fairfax County if you want a dog park you msut raise the funds to apy for it etc. County donates the land at one of its parks and then you have to fight for parking with the nasty soccer parents and their obnoxious low achieving spawn. Yeah my herding dogs are smarter than your honor student and any kid attending Thomas Jefferson. And they d*mn sure smarter than any WP columnist and our wonderfully incompetent Secretary of the Treasury.

Posted by: sheepherder | March 11, 2009 9:53 AM

Dog parks are worthwhile and entice tax-paying dog owners to live in the city rather than much dog-friendlier Virginia. Does this dog park need to cost so much? Doubtful. Where government ventures, wasted tax dollars surely follow.

DC schools aren't starved for tax dollars. This city could easily free up millions more dollars by cutting the extremely wasteful administrative overhead.

All the city's priorities could get more use out of tax dollars if the government wasn't so wasteful across-the-board.

My certified therapy dog visits children in hospitals and participates in a reading program for children who benefit from the companionship of a dog. She is an asset to the community.

This dog park issue should not be set up as dogs versus children. Or dogs versus gardeners.

Posted by: DagnyT | March 11, 2009 9:58 AM

DINKs pay taxes too, usually they pay more than their fair share of taxes considering that they don't get any deductions that people with children get.

It's not the end of the world to throw dog owners a proverbial bone.

Posted by: VTDuffman | March 11, 2009 10:00 AM

“Binary Man: Kids or Dogs? “This makes me chuckle as I’d have to say, historically, a kid and their dog is kind of an inevitable pairing rather than opposition.

Certainly acquiring a dog has led to my making the acquaintance of pretty much every kid in my neighborhood under the age of thirteen or so, with a notable emphasis on the elementary school sized boy subset. The fuzzy mutt now regularly goes on walks accompanied by a whole posse of little guys who tell me all about the dogs they want to have when they get bigger and live somewhere that allows them, how they’ll train them (fuzzy mutt is sadly bad at coming when called, so can’t play off the leash), what games their dog would like to play (fuzzy mutt’s also not so hot on “fetch”) and how much dog food their dog will get (F.M. is terribly interested in any of the many bits of trash he can find on the streets of S.W.).

I’m pretty confident that a playground that incorporated an awesome set of climbing equipment and a central meeting part for four footed playmates would be more or less the dream public recreational amenity from the kids’ point of view…and pretty sure the boys versus dogs dichotomy is more about the convenience of one set of grownups vs. the other. It’s certainly true that if I’m one day lucky enough to have the kids part of the equation, I can’t conceive of them not having pets and a nearby, neighborhood, destination where one could take all of the above would really just catalyze the joyful fun of a young, energetic household.

Posted by: McGee3 | March 11, 2009 10:03 AM

I moved out to a town of about 50,000 in the Midwest and we have a dog park.

A 9 acre, fenced dog-park with a dog water fountain. Partially maintained by the city, mostly by volunteers, funds were raised to buy the land and some companies donated fencing.

And the group that maintains it is upset because their plans for a second park - this one 12 acres, with subdivisions for small dogs and access to a body of water - is shelved and probably won't happen. They feel that the one park for a town of 50,000 just isn't enough. That we have ample walking paths and parks around the area (that ask that you only make sure you scoop poop that is in the middle of paths and keep the dogs on long leashes) seems to not be enough.

I'm a DINK with a dog, and even I find this excessive. (I actually use regular parks, not the dog park - people in the regular parks seem to have nicer dogs and more mannerly pets.) If the choice is better uniform public services that improve the general quality of life or dog-friendly features? I'll take the public services any day.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | March 11, 2009 10:07 AM

I vote for children.

Posted by: Lindemann777 | March 11, 2009 10:21 AM

First and foremost: I agree that children are a more precious resource than dogs. However, as a dog owner without children, I think that dog parks are a great idea. Dogs like to run and play, just like anything else. Unfortunately, the leash laws in the city do not allow for this. People who have tried to take their dogs off-leash in public parks often get tickets and fines.

I understand leash laws, as there are aggressive dogs, and even worse in my opinion, people who do not clean-up after their dogs. The latter is unhygienic and disgusting, and as a dog owner who has inadvertently stepped in someone else’s dog’s refuse, I can only say that someday, I hope a whole truckload of dog-poop is emptied onto your front yard. But I digress….

We live in a city where we have to share resources and land. Dog parks solve various problems: they provide a confined place in which dogs can run, play and go to the bathroom. They also tend to be self-policing: most dog owners do not put up with other people’s aggressive dogs, nor do they put up with those people who do not pick-up after their pets. Dogs are in one area, children are in another, and in the case of the McLean Community Garden, that is in yet a third area.

One more comment: those who support the dog park are raising money for it – it is just not being financed by the DC government.

Posted by: 20016DC | March 11, 2009 10:35 AM

I also have to object in general to this being a "binary" issue. It isn't, nor does it have to be.

In general, the "Won't someone *PLEASE* think of the children!" people revert to the binary argument right away because people usually default to agreeing with them.

"Which is more important, __________ or the children?!?!?!?!"

You can have both, it doesn't have to be an either/or proposition.

Posted by: VTDuffman | March 11, 2009 11:10 AM

An article from the Washington Pest, 1 April 2010:

DC Schools Top Nation

In the latest round of testing, students in DC Public Schools were ranked first in every category, including math, grammar, history, and geography, showing the greatest improvement on record according to the Department of Education. Regional systems in Maryland and Virginia did not show any improvement. The dramatic turnaround has widely been attributed to the increase in the school budget of a mere $350,000.

DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee was ecstatic about the report. "That extra money was really important," the chancellor exclaimed in yesterday's press conference. "It helps that I'm also a genius," the chancellor added.

Mayor Adrian Fenty told the press where the extra money was found. "The dog parks," he said. "We were going to waste $350,000 on a dog park and it turns out this money was the difference to push us from 51st in the nation to 1st!" The mayor was also adamant that parents of kids and dog haters be recognized for this achievement. "The fact is that we listened to parents and listened to what they had to say."

Many city councilmembers were pleased yet shocked over the report. An anonymous source reported that Ward 8 Member Marion Barry was still disappointed that the additional money couldn't be used for a soccer stadium. Council Chairman Vincent Gray was disappointed it took so long to realise just how much money would make the difference. "It's unfathomable that a budget of $773 million would not be enough but a budget of $773,350,000 would," the befuddled chairman spoke at the press conference.

Posted by: prokaryote | March 11, 2009 11:10 AM

what about those of us who have neither children or dogs?! HUH? When is soemone going to do something, tax-payer subsidized, for us? WHERE IS THE JUSTICE?!

do you see the absurdity of all of this?

Posted by: RedBirdie | March 11, 2009 11:13 AM

what about those of us who have neither children or dogs?! HUH? When is soemone going to do something, tax-payer subsidized, for us?

What about Regular (i.e. non-dog) Parks?

There's plenty of those.

Posted by: VTDuffman | March 11, 2009 11:18 AM

sheepherder, if your collies were so smart they would have run away from you a long time ago.

Posted by: dr_klahn | March 11, 2009 11:25 AM

It's interesting that some pro-dog people frame the issue in terms of getting benefits from taxes that they also pay. They say that since they pay taxes but have no children, some of the tax money should go towards things for what they have instead - dogs. This strikes me as a false comparison. Is the taxpayer money that the dog-owning non-parents pay just as valuable as the taxpayer money that parents pay? Yes, of course. Are the interests of the dog-owning non-parents as important as the interests of the parents? Well, yes, theoretically everyone's interests should get represented. Are the dogs themselves as important as the kids themselves, and thus deserving of public money outlay? No, that's where this breaks down. I think people who make the argument that it comes down to representing the interests of all taxpayers are ignoring the fact that the needs of the kids are just more important than the needs of the dogs.

That said, from the title of the post I was hoping Binary Man was going to actually tell us whether we should have kids or get dogs. I'm disappointed he offered no guidance in that regard.

Posted by: willow8300 | March 11, 2009 11:26 AM

Wanted to add, that doesn't mean dog parks are bad or that they're a waste of taxpayer money. Other commenters are correct that this shouldn't really have to be binary and we can spend money on both things.

Posted by: willow8300 | March 11, 2009 11:31 AM

"They say that since they pay taxes but have no children, some of the tax money should go towards things for what they have instead - dogs. This strikes me as a false comparison."

It's not really a false comparison, though. Not only do DINKs pay taxes, they actually pay *more* taxes than those with kids because they don't benefit from any of the deductions related to bearing kids.

The Dog Owners are not the whiners here. The park was planned and budgeted, and people started throwing a hissy fit about it, creating the false choice between kids and dogs.

The Kids always win, the kids get everything, parents with kids are alwasy accomodated, it's always about the kids. It's really not the end of the world if some money doesn't go to "the kids" or their parents.

Posted by: VTDuffman | March 11, 2009 11:36 AM

Ha! I too thought Binary Man was going to determine whether people should procreate or get a dog. This is a serious debate among the over-35 crowd -- married, partnered and single alike. Both have their pros and cons, of course. But remember, all of the pros and cons of a dog become moot after 13-18 years. Not so for children.

Posted by: conchfc | March 11, 2009 11:43 AM

VTDuffman: "It's not really a false comparison, though. Not only do DINKs pay taxes, they actually pay *more* taxes than those with kids because they don't benefit from any of the deductions related to bearing kids."

As a kidless, dogless, cat owner, I have to disagree with this. I maybe spend about $600 or so on my cats a year. I'm sure people with kids spend a heck of a lot more than that. Whatever discount they get in terms of deductions on income tax might not make up for the increase in sales tax.

AND not only do kid owners (aka parents) pay more in sales taxes than pet owners (per kid/pet), they also produce a NEW taxpayer in about 20 years. I don't think my freeloading furballs are going to go out and get a job and pay taxes any time soon. Too busy napping.

I support the dog park though, which costs $350,000 or 0.045% of the $773 million DCPS budget. That's $5.37 per student.

Posted by: prokaryote | March 11, 2009 11:56 AM

"That's $5.37 per student."

Meant to say, that 350K would be an additional $5.37 per student compared to the $11,874 per student they already get.

Posted by: prokaryote | March 11, 2009 11:58 AM

It's not either/or.

There's WAAAY to much selfishness here.

We should provide for the kids. And we should provide for the dogs.

Dogs aren't costing DC taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars to educate, medicate, or incarcerate. And dogs can actually improve the health of empty nesters, because you have to walk the dog a couple times a day, and they are a calming, loving influence.

Calm down, everybody. And don't go barking up a storm when we spend a few bucks on man's best friend.

Posted by: observer9 | March 11, 2009 12:40 PM

It's terrible what DPR has allowed to happen to their parks. Law states that dogs should be on a leash, that way we all get to enjoy the public parks, including dogs and their owners.

Unleashed dogs ruin land.

Posted by: bid999 | March 11, 2009 1:06 PM

I have neither dog nor child, so I have no bone in this fight so to speak. Except as a jogger. I want there to be dog parks so I don't have worry about someone's damn dog chasing me in a regular park. (Dog owners using Lincoln Park, I'm looking at you)

Posted by: Elkay1 | March 11, 2009 1:11 PM

Sadly, for those of us who know how dog parks are created in DC, this column only proves that binary thinking pits people against each other unnecessarily.

If you find the city spending money on a dog park to be outrageous, please consider how dog parks are cited. A nonprofit group must form and apply for a site that meets the District’s strict criteria for the park. This same group is partially responsible for funding the park’s construction and solely responsible for funding its upkeep. As for the “dog exercise surface,” it is mandated by the District to prevent urine and rainwater from pooling.

Does Marc Fisher seriously believe that dog owners are motivated by hatred of children? That no dog owners have children or plan to? That, if dogs are not allowed in public spaces, they will disappear from DC? In my neighborhood nearly a quarter of residents own dogs, compared with the 2 percent who are parents. Should all of these citizens move to Virginia, where they don’t have to worry about police shooting their dogs?

Besides, if you consider dogs a nuisance and a threat, why not cede them a bit of their own space?

Posted by: CybilDisobedience | March 11, 2009 1:39 PM

This is clearly not a binary issue and putting children versus dogs does nothing to help either. Instead of making a choice between children and dogs, support should be given to both.
The DC budget contains so much waste that stating the 350,000.00 for a dog park can better used is a joke.
Parkland should be used for athletics and dog parks. Francis Field is a good example where the neighborhood and area business, overwhelmingly support an athletic field and a dog park; however, an official decision by the DC government on this has been delayed because of misinformation and needlessly putting recreational users against dog owners.
To make a zero some choice between dogs and children only creates friction where many compromises have been made.
Any neighborhood benefits from youth athletic fields and a safe area for dogs to run off leash. Dog Parks and athletic fields do not have to come at the expense of the other.

Posted by: GDDC | March 11, 2009 4:03 PM

I have neither dog nor child, so I have no bone in this fight so to speak. Except as a jogger. I want there to be dog parks so I don't have worry about someone's damn dog chasing me in a regular park. (Dog owners using Lincoln Park, I'm looking at you)

Posted by: Elkay1 | March 11, 2009 1:11 PM
_____

Sounds like you just need to see the leash law enforced. The solution to law breaking (free running dogs) is not to reward them.

Posted by: sugarstreet | March 11, 2009 6:53 PM

I am a resident of DC, have always owned a dog and own two right now. It doesn't matter if the money has been earmarked for this for years; if you break these tax dollars down to households I'm sure the lions portion of this taxpayers money was not contributed by them. The only reason these councilmembers are bowing to these affluent groups in their wards is for votes. Also, to spend tax money on on a luxury for some of the wealthier residents while cutting much needed taxpayer services to the rest of the city shows an extreme indifference for the greater population, especially during an extreme economic recession. This is the reason I am nervous about the council getting their hands on this stimulus money.
I would much rather the city fund community gardens with tax money than this. These people advocating public dog parks for their dogs probably can afford to buy a lot and fund their own dog park without using public money, but for now, they should enjoy the benefits of the exercise and walk their dog on a leash like everyone else.

Posted by: tazz2 | March 11, 2009 9:50 PM

The proposed dog park at the Newark Street site is a few feet away from people’s homes, so that those of us who live in the neighborhood can now look forward to a constant symphony of dogs barking from early morning until late in the evening. The approved site currently provides the only open green area where neighborhood residents (especially those who don’t live in McLean Gardens) can come to relax and where kids can (and do) play – games of soccer, catch or kite flying are among common activities. Access to the proposed dog park at Newark Street will cut through an existing children’s playground with the potential of even more dogs allowed to run off leash – already a common practice – often frightening children, and yes, increasing the potential for kids (and adults) getting bitten. It isn’t a question of children vs. dogs. Dog parks have their place, but their place is not the location approved at Newark Street. And using taxpayer dollars, especially in these difficult economic times, to ensure that Fido will frolick in luxury, is shameful. $350,000 of taxpayer dollars for a dog park? It is impossible to comprehend the DC Government’s logic, much less its priorities. How many day care centers can stay opened with $350,000? How many libraries can extend their hours with a few thousand bucks? Let’s use this money where it is needed most! If dog owners of Ward 3 need a luxurious spa and gym for their pampered pets, they should get private funding...and find a different location. Right now, our city government is very definitely in the dog house!

Posted by: DClady2 | March 11, 2009 10:10 PM

Tazz, thank you!

That's what I'm talking about.

Dog owners ARE receiving money because they can use the parks now (on leash). The parks are there for them too.

Posted by: sugarstreet | March 11, 2009 10:12 PM

Dogs are not people. That they are considered by some to be a replacement for human children does not make them human, no matter how much they are loved. The fuzzy logic behind recognizing the "rights" of animals (such as dogs, to run off a leash) bears more than a passing resemblance to the logic of the angry elderly and childless in California who voted for Prop 13 30 years ago because they did not see their own personal value in paying property taxes to support schools.

Posted by: rsm1 | March 11, 2009 11:09 PM

GENIUS (thanks for the laughs!)
_____________________________________-

Posted by: prokaryote | March 11, 2009 11:10 AM

The dramatic turnaround has widely been attributed to the increase in the school budget of a mere $350,000.

DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee was ecstatic about the report. "That extra money was really important," the chancellor exclaimed in yesterday's press conference. "It helps that I'm also a genius," the chancellor added.

Mayor Adrian Fenty told the press where the extra money was found. "The dog parks," he said. "We were going to waste $350,000 on a dog park and it turns out this money was the difference to push us from 51st in the nation to 1st!" The mayor was also adamant that parents of kids and dog haters be recognized for this achievement.

Posted by: DagnyT | March 12, 2009 12:23 AM

How many DC kids who have dogs would like to have a safe, legal place for their dog to run off-leash?

$350,000 equals two or three worthless school administrators who should have been fired long ago.

Meanwhile, I urge people with bigger dogs (over 30 pounds) to look into bikejoring and dogscootering. The National Mall is the perfect bikejoring track.

My Samoyed prefers bikejoring to running around with other dogs.

Posted by: DagnyT | March 12, 2009 12:34 AM

"If dog owners of Ward 3 need a luxurious spa and gym for their pampered pets,"

Comments like this are the reason why "binary man" type situations never get anywhere. You can't even discuss the issue on its merits without resorting to hyperbole. Between the quoted statement and the "(sic)barking from early morning to late evening" shows that you have no idea what you're talking about. Generally, there's not a lot of noise at dog parks (seriously go visit one sometime, they're always "a few feet from houses") and if it's near where you are claiming kids are already running around, it's not going to be any more noise than people's screeching brats.*

*-see, your opponents can do it to, and it doesn't get anyone anywhere.

Posted by: VTDuffman | March 12, 2009 9:08 AM

"As a kidless, dogless, cat owner, I have to disagree with this. I maybe spend about $600 or so on my cats a year. I'm sure people with kids spend a heck of a lot more than that. Whatever discount they get in terms of deductions on income tax might not make up for the increase in sales tax."

You're acting like you don't spend any other money. Money that people with kids spend to someone without kids is just disposable income. You spend that money on other things, still pay sales tax on it, and arguably support the local economy more because I'd wager you are going out to eat/drink/play a lot more than those with kids and thus supporting local business.

Posted by: VTDuffman | March 12, 2009 9:11 AM

Why does a dog park need to cost that much? Wouldn't it be reasonable to fence of a grassed area and leave it at that? Why are they putting in this ground stuff? Who needs a 'Dog Exercise Surface'?

Posted by: ohioexile | March 12, 2009 12:46 PM

Those of you concerned about tax revenues going to dog parks should know that the city *does* mandate that neighborhoods form a group to raise funds to help construct and to completely maintain a park. And like it or not, dogs aren't going anywhere. A solution will have to be found and compromises will have to be made. And dog parks are a compromise. Virtually all dog owners would prefer a time-sharing arrangement like in New York, where dogs are allowed off leash in existing parks during limited hours. But the city says that solution is off the table, so dog parks it is. Most dogs need more exercise and socialization than an entire life on a leash can provide. Think about it -- dog owners are pursuing the dog park option because they want to obey the law and be good neighbors. Maybe the law gets broken so often because it's entirely unworkable.

Posted by: CybilDisobedience | March 12, 2009 3:41 PM

Maybe the law gets broken so often because dog owners are selfish. Actually, I'm pretty sure that's the correct interpretation.

Posted by: Lindemann777 | March 12, 2009 9:02 PM

And like it or not, dogs aren't going anywhere. A solution will have to be found and compromises will have to be made. And dog parks are a compromise. Most dogs need more exercise and socialization than an entire life on a leash can provide. Think about it -- dog owners are pursuing the dog park option because they want to obey the law and be good neighbors. Maybe the law gets broken so often because it's entirely unworkable.

Posted by: CybilDisobedience | March 12, 2009 3:41 PM

====

Ah, the "it's inevitable" argument. -Dogs aren't going anywhere.- Sorry, but I'm not buying it. I like dogs, dogs are not the problem.

But look, if you want your big hulking dog to have lots of space to ruin (and dogs running around off leash do make public space unuseable for people), then why move to a city?

Did the politicians compromise or cave?

The law gets broken so often because people do not have the commitment and inclination to properly train their dogs and because people do not feel like obeying the law.

You and your dog can go just about anywhere you want to, as long as your dog is on a leash.

Posted by: sugarstreet | March 12, 2009 9:22 PM

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