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HOLMBERG: What’s up with the humans barking at Barker Field?

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HOLMBERG- On Tuesday Richmond Police rolled five-deep on Barker Field, Richmond's busiest dog park, "where a dog can be a dog."

They were called in because of human snarling over one of the two-legged regulars bringing in his 9-year-old daughter.

David Bender's fur is still a little ruffled about it.

"I pay taxes, I support the dog park," he said a little heatedly while sitting on one of the park's picnic tables this rainy Friday afternoon. "I've been coming here for a decade. I think its ridiculous that I can't bring a 9-year-old girl in the dog park."

While we talked for this story, another regular, Peter Shaw, strolled over and added his thoughts. The next thing you know, they were almost snarling.

"What's going to happen is your kid is going to get hurt, right," Shaw said. "And the dog park goes away."

"Then why don't you ban the elderly and the handicapped?" countered Bender.

Shaw said anyone foolish enough to bring their children inside the enclosure where the dogs run free should be charged with child neglect.

Bender countered that he knows his daughter and the park and it should be his decision.

It was much milder barking than what brought the cops Tuesday. In that case, the person who confronted Bender was very nearly arrested.

It wasn't Bender's first tussle with that regular, and the park has had other incidents and arguments over the rules - in one case a pistol was allegedly drawn.

This is, I believe, the oldest dog park on city property. It sits on an edge of Byrd Park. It opened after a private one on Monument Avenue closed. It's certainly the most-used dog park in the area.

For years, there was no age limit for humans. Then there was an 8-year age minimum, which is still the case over at the city's East End Bark Park below Chimborazo Hill.

About a year ago, Barker Field's board decided to raise the limit to 12.

It's an issue across the country as cities weigh the risks and liabilities against free park access.

Many Barker Field users agree with the age limit.

"Things can get a little rough with the dogs," said Tad Grenga. "But as long as it's between the dogs - no harm no foul. "But when you bring kids into the situation, it can get a little hairy, I think."

It can get a little rough in the park, with dogs racing around, wrestling and sometimes fighting. Adults can get knocked down.

Maggie Erbaugh said she has enough to worry about just watching her dog, Harriett, interact with the other dogs. "I don't want to have to worry about a legal issue if children are involved."

Parker Agelasto, representing this 5th District on Richmond's City Council, says he's been monitoring the situation. He said there's been some confusion about the enforceability of the rules established by the Barker Field board. Those who break the rules can be banned from the park (subject to appeal), but not arrested.

There are those who want to put some more bite into the rules by making them law, but Agelasto said that would take time and actually diminish the ability of the board to adjust the rules as they see fit.

It's an interesting place, used by a wide range of humans and canines. There are strong passions at Barker Field, some cliques, friendships, romances and numerous people committed to keeping Barker Field healthy.

Maybe keeping the dogs barking is worth a little human barking, as long as they don't start biting.

Read more about it here:



  • boop

    Kids are really exciting for many dogs. They’re about dog-sized and have flailing arms and slightly unpredictable movements, and that looks like an awesome opportunity to play! My dog, who was bigger than the children he met at Barker Field, LOVED to run up, tail wagging, and try to initiate play. He was so big that that was enough to end up with a scared, crying kid. We ended up just leaving the dog park whenever it looked like someone was going to bring a kid in, which was frustrating if we’d only been there five minutes. Some people get WAY too upset over the rules — some of the aforementioned regulars are so rude it’s kind of disgusting — but they are there for a reason.

  • crazy lady

    Who is held liable if a child gets hurt? The dog owner or the parent of the injured child. Rules are rules. If we expect children to follow them then we as adults need to set an example and follow them as well. Whether you agree with them or not. This is a safety reason not a let’s see who we can inconvenience today rule. Grow up and be someone your child can learn from not someone who teaches them to break the rules.

    • Vicky

      Amen…crazy lady…Wish we had more people like you..People just dont want to follow the rules anymore…They wanna make their own rules…Then they should open their own dog park…PERIOD.

    • Belsma

      Very well stated! If his kid breaks a rule is he going to let it go unpunished? If he does punish her, she can just say, “well, you broke the rules at the dog park”.

    • Kelly

      Why cant people just follow the rules. that’s what’s wrong today.. No one thinks they apply to them. Because children are smaller dog see them differently. We should be teaching children to follow the rules, not break them.

    • Tmay

      What’s more frightening is, no matter who is found at fault, a dog that bites a child will almost always get a death sentence! He may feel that his daughter is old enough to handle herself, but as a mom to two excitable fur children I would see her as a threat. I don’t know if his daughter knows not to get between two fighting dogs, or knows not to grab them. Your kid can go to a playground. Follow the rules.

  • Vicky

    Janet that is a stupid comment…The kids that enjoy taunting or teasing animals would be a problem…Cant anything just be for pets…Leave your small children at home with a sitter or family member…Let the dogs have fun !

  • Linda Maroney

    I take my dogs to a Dog Park in Henrico, it has separate areas for big dogs, little dogs and because it is located in a regular park there is also a playground for kids. The dog park rules say that kids can only come in with their parents, however that does not prevent the problems that many dog owners are concerned about. Kids that are used to dogs, know how to play with them and listen to their parents are fine. But…many parents don’t watch their kids and many kids use the dogs and the agility equipment for their own amusement. Not all dogs are kid friendly, some are scared of kids, some are just too big or too rough to play with kids. That is why it is called a dog park and not a playground. Many parents would not appreciate me bringing my dogs to the playground and interrupting their kids playtime. I not sure an age limit is the answer to the problem but Barker Field was established as a place that people could take their dogs to run and play off leach with other dogs. The people who established the park and maintain it have a right to set the rules for the safety of everyone and every dog in the dog park.

  • Wendy

    It’s called a DOGpark so that DOGS can be DOGS so that they can run around and play and do DOG things without their owners having to worry about their children being trampled bitten or whatever by dogs. There are plenty of playgrounds for kids under 12

  • Lane McColl

    Richmond is a dangerous city and children should not be allowed in the city. What if something happens to them, who will be held liable?

    Stupid people need to have rules for every situation because they have no common sense. Let kids play with dogs. Holy cow! Kids used to grow up on farms and run through fields and forests with their pets before well intentioned but misguided busybodies took over the world.

    • Cass

      I agree that over-regulation is a pain in the left cheek.
      I disagree that other people should have to put up with their pets being used as kid-teaching facilities. The kid won’t be the one put down if they pull a dog’s tail and get bitten.

    • fluff

      I don’t want kids to play with my dogs! I don’t want a legal battle between entitled breeders and mysef if my dog “damages” their precious snowflake in any way…

    • plasticcup

      Umm except other people’s dogs are THEIR property (and, you know, living beings that have feelings and stuff), not YOURS. YOU cannot decide what other people do with their pets. How would you like it if a dog owner insisted on your kid playing with their dog, so the dog could get socialized, even if you or your kid didn’t want to? It works both ways buddy.

  • Ralph

    They problem I see here is that they expect the police to enforce “rules” imposed by a private Board of Directors on a public park. Other jurisdictions have similar “rules” but there they are ordinances that the County voted on and attached a local ordinance code number to. In RVA you want the Police to enforce a non law/ordinance and officers feel they are in a trick box. Never mind that if someone refuses to remove his 12 or under child because he feels the “rule” is wrong and gets a ban notice then not only is he banned from the dog park but he is banned from ALL City Parks!! So not only can that parent not bring his child to the dog park but now can not bring the child the enjoy Pony Pasture in the Summer or Belle Isle, or the any of the festivals that take place on Browns Isle. That is pretty excessive for not following a non law/ordinance “rule”.
    If they want it enforced the City Council needs to stop riding the fence and vote on making it a City ordinance. “Monitoring” the situation is political talk for I don’t want to make a decision until I see which way the majority of my voters go.

    • Ralph

      If the City would adopt the ordinance then it would be enforceable. The problem here is a private entity dictating what can happen in a public park and expect the police to enforce THEIR rules. Did the tax payers have any say so on this? Did they have any input as to who sits on the board and makes the rules?

  • Stitch

    Our dog park has two enclosures, one for large dogs and one for small breeds. Children are allowed in the small breeds park! Compromise people and use some common sense. Also, if a dog has not learned the difference between a human and another dog and/or self control, they don’t belong in ANY public place.

    • Kitten

      If a child has not learned self control, they don’t belong in any public place either. A child was hitting my gentle dog (hard) with a stick. The parent got angry because I yelled at the little shit. Parents get SO pissed when a dog bites their stupid snowflakes, but often times the child causes a perfectly behaved dog to snap. I wanted to bite the kid’s head off, too.

  • plasticcup

    And then when your kid gets attacked for poking some poor doggy in the eye, who gets put down?

    Not the kid. The poor doggy does.

    Entitled parents are the worst.

  • Elizabeth

    Dogs are not allowed in playgrounds in the city for many reasons – sanitation, dog/kid issues, etc. These are the same reasons children should not be allowed in the dog park. There is a play ground on the other side of the Carillon. Take your children there. I have seen far to many unattended kids in the dog park – running and squealing, others screaming in terror and some putting mulch in their mouths – yuk! And, just because your child is good with dogs doesn’t mean that a strangers dog is good with kids. Sorry, those are the rules. And yes, this could have been addressed in a far more productive and civilized manner.

  • Tmay

    What’s more frightening is, no matter who is found at fault, a dog that bites a child will almost always get a death sentence! He may feel that his daughter is old enough to handle herself, but as a mom to two excitable fur children I would see her as a threat. I don’t know if his daughter knows not to get between two fighting dogs, or knows not to grab them. Your kid can go to a playground. Follow the rules.

  • Lisa

    The Dad in this story is an entitled, stupid tool.. He’s a taxpayer so he gets to break the rules? Hey, I’m a taxpayer too – can I let my dog run around the halls of your kids public school? Any parent bringing their kids into a dog park should be held 100% liable vor ANYTHING that happens while they’re there.

  • Nikki

    “The City Council announces the opening of a new dog park at the corner of Earl and Sommerset, near the Ralph’s. They would like to remind everyone that dogs are not allowed in the dog park. People are not allowed in the dog park. It is possible that you will see hooded figures in the dog park. DO NOT APPROACH THEM. DO NOT APPROACH THE DOG PARK. The fence is electrified and highly dangerous. Try not to look at the dog park, and, especially, do not look for any period of time at the hooded figures. The dog park will not harm you.”

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