As more dog parks open across Maricopa, children finally will be able to play fetch with their pooches at city-operated facilities.

On Tuesday evening, the City Council unanimously approved an amendment to an ordinance that previously restricted children 11 and younger from visiting any city-operated dog parks. Starting March 9, children will be permitted to attend dog parks with a parent or adult guardian.

Since enacting dog park regulations in 2017, the city has received several requests to alter these age restrictions. These inquiries grew over the last few months, according to Quinn Konold, city communications and cultural services director.

“The goal has always been to allow families to enjoy these spaces with their pets in a safe and responsible manner,” Konold said.

And while patrons at Pacana Park’s new dog park were supportive of the change, they still had safety concerns.

“It’s a tough one because obviously dogs and kids should go together,” Maricopa resident Nathan Cree said. “It could be risky because your kid could get hurt.”

Cree said that even before the ordinance change, he would frequently see children inside dog parks either watching or playing with the animals. His primary concern was for children falling over while interacting with an excited dog.

“You kind of see a little bit of frustration on both sides,” Cree said. “The parents say, ‘Take care of your dog,’ and it’s like, well, this is a dog park, not a playground.”

A sign restricting young children from the dog park sits on a gate leading into the Copper Sky Dog Park in Maricopa on Feb. 9, 2023. Photo: Monica D. Spencer/InMaricopa

Alan Osterling, a Maricopa resident since 2012, also noted concerns for the safety of younger children around dogs.

“My dog, he loves kids but he may jump,” Osterling said. “He gets excited, and he may jump on a kid and when the kid falls down, the parents are upset.”

However, not every pet parent was as supportive of the change. A small group at the Copper Sky dog park opposed the update and said that even with the current age restriction, parents bring children into the dog park daily. They also noted health and safety concerns, especially with dogs that play more aggressively.

In response to the concerns, Konold emphasized understanding and following rules at the parks.

“All patrons of the dog parks are required to follow the city code,” Konold said. “We encourage parents and pet owners to be familiar with those requirements prior to bringing their children and pets to the parks.”

Some dog owners also expressed concern over enforcement and the consequences for patrons who do not follow the new ordinances. Konold said that while violations can result in citations that may cost as much as $400 per day, park rangers attempt to focus on education first.

“A citation is a last resort and we’re grateful that the patrons of Maricopa parks are largely respectful of the rules,” Konold said.

The consensus among dog owners was for parents to remain vigilant over their children in and around dog parks.

“I guess you have to be a responsible parent to watch your kids around all the dogs because you never know,” Osterling said. “You just don’t know.”