Leash Laws: They’re No Walk in the Park

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By London Lyle

Wheat Ridge resident Blake holds St. Bernard Hugo’s collar at Berkeley Dog Park as he is greeted by a friend. Photo by London Lyle

Berkeley Dog Park, a popular spot among Denver’s canine community, often receives mixed reviews.

Visit on any given afternoon and you might hear it described as “a depressing litter box” by regulars. One local labeled it a “post-apocalyptic wasteland” on the r/Denver subreddit. Harsh, but perhaps understandable: The off-leash dog park looks less like a park and more like a  gravel parking lot, with little greenery in sight. 

Despite its dull appearance, the park remains a popular choice. When it comes to tiring out their pups, Denverites who live in apartments have two options outside of investing in one of those trendy dog treadmills that cost a fortune. Take Fido for a very long walk or take him to the “post-apocalyptic, depressing litter box” and throw the tennis ball for an hour. 

Beyond Berkeley, Denver offers a number of similar off-leash dog parks: Fuller Dog Park and Greenway Off-Leash Dog Park share Berkeley’s basic setup; just swap “litter” for “sand.”

Sand is great for bone-burying purposes, but as temperatures rise, Denver’s pups lack opportunities to paddle in the creek or gallop across grassy hills. So why are the leash laws so stringent in the Mile High City, which is often ranked among the most dog-friendly cities in America?

“I’ve been ticketed numerous times. Everyone has,” said a Jefferson Park visitor who requested anonymity to avoid further fines.

“I mean, I get the safety aspect of it, but if no one is around, I don’t see why it’s a big deal for my dog to be off leash,” he added as his unleashed dog chased after a bird.

According to Yolanda Quesada, a spokesperson for Denver Parks and Recreation, the strict leash rules prioritize the safety of park visitors, leashed pets and local wildlife, along with preserving the natural environment. Enforcement, she notes, is up to the discretion of the park rangers.

Quesada added, “Denver Parks and Recreation is committed to expanding our dog parks to allow a safe place for Denver residents to take their dogs with a goal of having every resident live within a 2-mile radius or less of a dog park.”

However, the issue may not be the quantity of dog parks but their quality. Many residents travel beyond city limits seeking better conditions—more space, more greenery and a more liberating experience for their dogs.

For some, neighboring cities like Westminster and Littleton offer more appealing alternatives. Westminster Dog Park boasts the largest off-leash area in the region, and recent efforts to reduce its size have met strong local resistance. Chatfield Dog Park in Littleton boasts a pond that’s “pawfect” for an afternoon dip.

Innovative solutions like designated off-leash hours or adopting Boulder’s Voice and Sight program, which allows dogs to roam off-leash once certified, are popular. “It requires a test and training,” explained Anabel, a North Denver resident and owner of a certified dog named Marvin. “But it’s your responsibility to ensure they don’t bother anyone.”

Lisa Parker’s dog, Bodie (right), with a new friend at Berkeley Dog Park. Photo by London Lyle

While similar proposals have been made to Parks and Rec in the past, they are not up for consideration at this time, according to Quesada. Instead, the focus remains on creating new and improved spaces, such as the upcoming Central Street Dog Park in the Lower Highlands, scheduled for summer 2025 and backed by $850,000 from the Elevate Denver Bond.

In the meantime, some residents find it’s worth the occasional trek to more accommodating locales. During the hot summer months, LoHi resident Kevin Barr takes his husky-Malamute mix, Merle, to the cooler confines of Chatfield Dog Park. 

The rest of the year, Barr said he and Merle come to Berkeley Dog Park up to four times a week. “Denver is definitely dog-friendly compared to other cities,” Barr asserted, citing Salt Lake City as an example.

Acknowledging the information gap among Denver’s dog owners, Quesada said that rangers follow a progressive compliance model of enforcement and use education as a way to gain compliance. Park rules are posted at most parks, which include off-leash rules. In instances of continued violations park rangers may place additional signage explaining the rules.

Ben Asser, a downtown Denver resident, often takes his dog, Cleo, to Westminster Dog Park to expend her excess energy. They also enjoy visiting Denver Beer Co., where they relax on the dog-friendly patio. While he said he longs for more dog-friendly restaurants, Asser is generally content with Denver’s leash laws, explaining, “My dog will run away, so she needs to be on a leash unless we’re in a fenced area.”

But Northwest Denver resident Lisa Parker shares a different perspective regarding the city’s support for dog owners. In addition to adopting Boulder’s Voice and Sight Program, she said she believes “we need to have more spaces for our dogs to be off leash and more opportunities for social interaction. Berkeley Park doesn’t have a lot of trees, there’s no grass, there’s no access to water.”

“While I’m grateful for it, it’s very minimal,” she said. With a laugh, she added, “My friend called it a depressing litter box. That’s what we got.”

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