Pet Patrol: Off-Leash is Off-Limits

By: Officer Jeff Kirchman

A path leads into Muir Woods at the University of Wisconsin-Madison during spring on April 25, 2017. The area – named after famed naturalist John Muir – is part of the UW-Madison Lakeshore Nature Preserve. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

One of my favorite places to patrol on campus is the Lakeshore Nature Preserve. For the unaware, the preserve is made up of approximately 300 acres of woods, prairies, marshland, and other natural areas. It stretches for miles along the Lake Mendota shoreline — from the Memorial Union to the neighboring community of Shorewood Hills. Popular spots like Picnic Point, the Eagle Heights Community Gardens, Biocore Prairie, and more are found in the Preserve.

When I patrol the Lakeshore Nature Preserve, it’s not uncommon for me to meet people walking their pets. Which is nice – it’s perfectly fine to bring our animal friends onto campus. However, some important rules apply.

Pets must be leashed at all times in the preserve — and, anywhere else on university grounds for that matter. As a dog owner, I certainly understand the desire to let our canine friends ‘off-lead’ so they can truly stretch their legs. But university property is not the place to do it. A better choice for this is a recognized dog park. The City of Madison offers nine off-leash dog parks. Failure to leash a dog on university lands could result in a fine of over $200.00.

Why are the rules so stringent?

One reason is safety – both for humans and pets. Unsecured pets increase the chance of bite injuries — to humans as well as animals. Off-leash pets can also get themselves and their owners into some dangerous situations; I once responded to a report of an unleashed dog that had tumbled down a lakeside cliff. Its owner attempted a one-person rescue operation, only to get themselves stuck on the steep embankment. The dog went to the vet with an injured leg, while its owner spent several uncomfortable days recovering from a nasty case of poison ivy.

Another reason is the protection of ongoing research. For example, unrestrained dogs could negatively impact the UW Urban Canid Project. This ground-breaking study of urban coyotes and foxes has study sites throughout the University area. A single unleashed dog could skew data or even render a site unusable for future research.

Your pets are welcome on campus, be they furred, feathered, finned or other. Just please make sure you, and they, follow the rules to help maintain safety and enjoyment for everyone.