COMMENTARY: Dogs Just Want to Have Fun!

Islanders advocate for an unleashed, fenced dog park for Vashon.

  • Friday, November 19, 2021 12:39pm
  • Opinion
Ethan Russo

Ethan Russo

I am writing today on behalf of a group of dedicated dog owners who have been advocating the development of an unleashed fenced dog park on Vashon for many months.

Perhaps some people are aware of the numerous past efforts in this direction over the last decade that have failed due to opposition and canis non-gratis objections from one faction or another, perceived lack of funding through Vashon Parks District or King County Parks, or other reasons, but it is now time to work beyond those barriers, and in the words of the legendary Captain Jean-Luc Picard, “Make it so!”

Our tax dollars have provided Vashon with the blessing of several multiple-use and dedicated facilities that serve walkers, joggers, equestrians, mountain bikers, skateboarders and even disk golfers, but with nothing for dogs and their owners.

Some of these trails and sites are notably under-utilized, but we are not intending to expropriate anyone’s existing resource, rather, we are seeking to gain our own dedicated place. Dogs and dog owners are a notably underserved constituency here on Vashon; there are some 800 licensed dogs on the island with an estimated total of 2,500 dogs or more.

Dogs are highly social animals that prefer to be part of a pack. That construct can be a human family or a group of dogs or both. What motivates a dog? Certainly, food is primary, but what dog is not excited about taking a walk or riding in a car?

These activities are substitutes and surrogates for their instinct to hunt and explore. Running and playing with other dogs is a tremendous way to fulfill these needs and work off energy. Dogs that have such opportunities are likely to have fewer behavior issues or express aggressive tendencies. This can make all the difference between the nice and friendly dog we all want to see, as compared to the territorial and aggressive “lone wolf” that lacks such outlets.

Many of us live on small lots, and for one, I can attest that our rescue Golden was simply born to run, and will do so on a daily jaunt, or lacking the chance due to autumn downpours, will resort to bursts of sprints and vaults inside the house.

Having a fenced dog park will doubtlessly reduce problems and confrontations on other multiple-use trails that we currently share. No, we are not likely to disappear from existing spots where we and our dogs like to walk, but it is reasonable to expect fewer issues once a suitable venue is available.

We are seeking a site that will not discomfort neighbors, would be 2- to 5-acres or more, with the potential for separate fenced areas for little dogs and big dogs, and ample and safe on- or off-street parking.

Our group has completed a provisional survey of Vashon dog owners, 90% of whom expressed interest in having a fenced unleashed dog park. Most are ready to join us in supporting the effort with dollars, time and volunteer labor to supervise operations. We would love institutional support from the island or county, but failing that would consider an initiative to pursue this endeavor with private funding and apply a system whereby registered dog owners could utilize the dog park on a subscription basis.

We ask for your support. You can express your thoughts about a dog park for Vashon in a two-minute survey at To send your ideas about a dog park on the island, or to receive updates about the effort to create one, send a message to

Ethan Russo, M.D., is a board-certified child and adult neurologist (residency at Children’s Hospital/University of Washington), psychopharmacology researcher, and Founder/CEO of CReDO Science, After living and working in Missoula, Montana for 24 years, he and his spouse, Kay, moved to Vashon in 2007. He is the son and brother of veterinarians, customarily surrounded by pets. As he likes to say, “I measure my life in Golden Retrievers.” Those have included two VIPP rescue dogs. (Photo by Rick Dahms)

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