Patch speaks with a San Fernando Valley veterinarian, Dr. James Isaacs, about dog parks and more.
PATCH and DR. JAMES ISAACS begin the interview imitating a movie trailer, both men putting on passionate announcer voices...
PATCH: OK, you've seen the dog park on the way home. Your friends talk about how they enjoy a morning romp. Your friends' pets always go to the local dog park. You're considering taking your beloved companion to the dog park—
DR. JAMES ISAACS: (JUMPING IN) —when...images of filth, vermin, horrendous disfiguring bloodbaths from packs of rabid dogs—
PATCH: —Dogs on steroids—
DR. JAMES ISAACS: —Dangerous-looking, muscular beasts are seen consuming innocent puppies to the cheers of gangs who placed big bets.
PATCH: So, given we hear terrible stories and have lots fear, what is the truth about the hazards—versus benefits—of taking your pet to the dog park? And should you get back in the car and leave if you see a wound-up pit bull?
DR. JAMES ISAACS: Don't assume that—just because there is a pitbull in the park—that you and your pet shouldn't go there and enjoy yourselves. All of the pitbulls in my practice are great dogs and very friendly.
PATCH: But their problems are with dog-on-dog aggression, not dog-on-people aggression, right?
DR. JAMES ISAACS: The statistics on pitbulls are that they are not the number one biting dog, but they are responsible for the most fatalities and severe injuries when they do bite, due to their powerful jaws.
PATCH: So we should be afraid and cautious? Or we don't need to be?
"You go to a dog park without your dogs?"
DR. JAMES ISAACS: Most pitbull owners are very aware that their breed has had unfavorable publicity, and they don't want to be on the other end of a lawsuit, don't want to have their homeonwers insurance cancelled, and don't want to be the subject of an animal control investigation.
PATCH: So, the odds are good for us at most dog parks?
DR. JAMES ISAACS: Often, the pitbull owners make extra sure that their dogs are very well trained and have excellent manners just because of this prejudice agains the breed. There are exceptions, of course, but the majority are great.
PATCH: Do you take your dogs to dog parks?
DR. JAMES ISAACS: Actually, I don't. I go to the dog park every Saturday and Sunday, but without my dogs!
PATCH: You go to a dog park—without your dogs?
DR. JAMES ISAACS: I do a low cost vaccine clinic in dog parks.
PATCH: Shouldn't we know where to meet you? Which dog parks do you work?
DR. JAMES ISAACS: For 15 years I've been doing a low-cost pet vaccination clinic at the dog park at Victory and White Oak (Sepulveda Basin Off-Leash Dog Park) on Sundays.
DR. JAMES ISAACS: Sundays, from 3:30pm to 5 pm.
"When I get home, I'm a virtual 'sniff-fest' for my own dogs!"
—DR. JAMES ISAACS
PATCH: Where are you on Saturdays?
DR. JAMES ISAACS: On Saturday I do a Vaccine Clinic at Whitnall Dog Park in North Hollywood at the same time.
PATCH: And you don't bring your own dogs while you're there?
DR. JAMES ISAACS: Because I'm doing the vaccine clinic, I can't watch them as I should, so I leave them at home. The good news is that, when I get home, I'm a virtual "sniff fest" for my dogs. I have the scent of a bunch of canines on me, and I'm an olfactory Disneyland for them.
PATCH: Okay, so, outside of getting a cheap vaccination for your dog, what are the benefits to a dog park?
DR. JAMES ISAACS: You know, it gets both the owners and the dogs out of the house.
PATCH: (Laughs) Okay, yes, and then?
DR. JAMES ISAACS: The physical and psychological benefits of being outside, moving around, breathing the air, walking without traffic lights or sidewalks—and no traffic!—make it valuable.
"More interesting—and impressive—is that the owner lost weight as well!"
—DR. JAMES ISAACS
PATCH: Dog parks are a good change-up.
DR. JAMES ISAACS: New sights, new sounds, new smells, new people, new critters to meet—all really stimulating. That excitement and interest is needed by everybody to break up the week.
PATCH: Dogs get bored, too, hence digging, barking, biting, etc.
DR. JAMES ISAACS: Overall, the whole experience is good for pooches and people.
PATCH: Can dogs really get exercise at a dog park? And can't they get that in your own back yard, chasing a ball?
DR. JAMES ISAACS: I know several people who reported their overweight pup (Rotund Rover) leaned up in 21 weeks after including regular visits to the dog park.
PATCH: So, a dog park can be part of a weight loss program?
DR. JAMES ISAACS: More interesting—and impressive— is that the owner lost weight as well! I guess, all that running around and supervising his dog, throwing the ball, it all led to extra calorie burn for both of them. Big breeds benefit from adding a real hike before the park.
PATCH: Does it matter that they socialize with other dogs? Is it always a good thing?
DR. JAMES ISAACS: That depends on the dog.
"Aha! So you do use dog parks for your own dogs?"
PATCH: For instance?
DR. JAMES ISAACS: One of my dogs goes to all the people in the park and befriends them. I am not sure that her abilty to sniff out dog bisquits and treats plays a major role in this. But, she doesn't play with other dogs at all when she's at the park.
PATCH: Aha! So you do use dog parks!
DR. JAMES ISAACS: Yes. (Laughs) My other dog is a socialite across the board.
PATCH: So, really, he's as social as the first?
DR. JAMES ISAACS: He loves other dogs and other people in a big way. But...
DR. JAMES ISAACS: I have some clients, dog owners, whose dogs are really shy.
PATCH: What do shy dogs and owners do with a dog park visit? Should they just not go?
DR. JAMES ISAACS: I suggest to them that they walk their dog around the outside fence of the park for the first several visits. That way they see what is going on in the park, get to sniff a dog through the fence if they want, and they have the comfort of their owner being with them all that time.
"Are some dog parks better than others?"
PATCH: Are some dog parks better than others? What are some of the worst? Which are the best?
DR. JAMES ISAACS: Absolutely! Some are worse, and some are better.
- is very hilly and it is a long way from the entrance to the farthest end of the park.
- If your dog likes slopes, and you are confident that you won't need to get to your dog to supervise, then that park is okay.
- Other parks are flat squares of land, and access and visibility are better.
- The dog park in Silver Lake, where we do a low cost vaccine clinic on the second Saturday of every month, between 3:30pm and 5 pm, is all dirt.
There is a big trough where dogs can almost get all the way in the water, but, what a mess for the owners when they get that dog back to the car!
- The park at White Oak and Victory has separate areas for shy and small dogs, as well as watering areas, ample pooper scoopers, and trees throughout the park for shade.
"Scope out a park before opening the gate. If there are aggressive dogs there, it'll be obvious within a short period ot time."
—DR. JAMES ISAACS
PATCH: Are some dangerous?
DR. JAMES ISAACS: I have never seen a dog severely injured at the dog park, and i've been going there for a lot of years. I have seen the occasional puncture wound resulting from a tussle between dogs. My advice is to scope out the park before opening the gate and allowing your dog inside. If there are any aggressive dogs there, it is usually obvious within a short period of time.
PATCH: Can parks spread disease?
DR. JAMES ISAACS: There is a slight increase in the incidence of an intestinal parasite, giardia, in dogs that frequent dog parks where there are moist areas (next to sprinklers, and water troughs). But that is as acceptable as the number of skinned knees in any kiddie playgound.
PATCH: Do the diseases live in the grass or other material at the park? Or are they passed from one dog to another ?
DR. JAMES ISAACS: Giardia is transmittd by fecal to oral transmission. So, infected poop that is sniffed by another dog, or residual feces that is left on moist grass can still harbor the organism.
PATCH: So, sniffing poop is the culprit? If people cleaned up their dogs' poops religiously, both spirit and body would improve, eh?
"Giardia is transmitted through sniffing poop. Cleaner parks are safer parks. Though dirt, dry grass—lack of moisture—are less prone to Guardia infection."
—DR. JAMES ISAACS
DR. JAMES ISAACS: Sniffing butts is another common way of contracting this parasite when it is present. In parks with mostly dirt, or with dry grass, the lack of moisture makes it less favorable for giardia to survive.
PATCH: Does the type of ground of a park make a big difference? What would be the best material to use for the ground? Wood chips? Fake grass? Real grass? rocks? Dirt? Sand?
DR. JAMES ISAACS: I think grass is the best. Admittedly, there can be residual poop left behind from even the best scoopers, but it is the best feel, and the dogs love it. Most grassy parks periodically fence off areas to re-seeed, and to allow for grass to recover, to become deeply rooted, and turn green. Then they open those areas and fence off another area.
PATCH: You told me that your dog loves to run on the beach. I think both or our dogs love the sand between ther toes. Why don't they make dog parks with sand?
DR. JAMES ISAACS: Sand would work, but it invites stray cats! Cats love to eliminate in sand.
PATCH: Really? Like a—
DR. JAMES ISAACS: —YES! It's like a large kitty litter box to them. The buried cat feces becomes a health hazard. This is a common problem in kiddie parks, playgrounds with sandbox areas.
PATCH: Is that the worm infestation trouble I have read about?
DR. JAMES ISAACS: The incidence of roundworm migration in children is highest where the parks have sand to play in. And the numbers of feral cats are highest. So, let 'em romp at the beach. Beach sand doesn't have the catbox appeal that city parks have.
PATCH: How often do dogs come into the clinic with injuries or dog bites from a dog park ?
DR. JAMES ISAACS: It's uncommon. We render first aid at no charge during our vaccine clinics. We've yet to have a victim that needed sutures.
PATCH: I hear such awful stories from people, though.
DR. JAMES ISAACS: I think the severity of the fights is much less in parks, because the dogs have so much space to move around; and it's easier to maneuver out of harm's way with all that open space. Also, the people in the park are usually very responsive to fighting, quickly breaking up any fights.
A Normal dog would never really hurt or kill another dog, would it?
PATCH: A normal dog would never really hurt or kill another dog, would it ?
DR. JAMES ISAACS: I personally know of a veterinarian who was sued because a large Rottweiler got out of a run where it was boarded and somehow got into the run where a chihuahua was boarded. The chihuahua was not in the run. The grizzly discovery was made by taking x-rays of the rottweiler's abdomen, where the skeleton of the chihuahua was seen in his stomach.
PATCH: Oh. Gosh. I guess that answers my question. Yuck. What about just walking my dog in the average apartment or condocomplex grounds. Isn't it worse because of the weed-killer (and other pesticides) they use on the grass ?
DR. JAMES ISAACS: Yes, the curbs and common areas around condo and apartment complexes (maintained by the city) are usually treated with weed killer, pesticides, and fertilizers. These are toxic to people and pets.
PATCH: Don't judge a book by its cover! Right? A nice lawn might be not so nice? Thanks for sharing with us.
DR. JAMES ISAACS: Judge a dog park by its overall healthiness for you and your animals. Thanks for having me.