CHEVY CHASE VILLAGE, Md. — More than 100 people packed into a public hearing Monday night to debate what one board member called “the most contentious and emotionally charged issue” in the community’s history: barking dogs.
The board members voted 5-2 in favor of dismantling the dog park that has divided the District of Columbia suburb for months, turning it into just a park.
“The size and location of this off-leash area is not meeting standards,” said Chairwoman Elissa Leonard before a chorus of boos from the dozens of dog-lovers who wore matching white hats to show their support of the park.
“You should be ashamed of yourself!” a member of the crowd yelled before leading a mass exodus from the meeting.
The decision put an end to months of howling from the humans in this wealthy enclave just outside Washington. What began as a plan to turn a patch of land frequented by local pups into a formal dog park became a breeding ground for animal animus.
Neighbors who live directly beside the park complained that they found their lives disrupted by the barking dogs, the carelessness of their companions and the nuisance of outsiders’ cars parked in front of their homes.
The tension escalated when The Washington Post published a story about the divisions, chronicling the powerful players embroiled in the debate: Leonard, the wife of Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell; Doug Gansler, a former attorney general of Maryland; loads of lawyers; and Chubbs, a 5-month-old golden retriever.
While Chubbs has been rolling in his new-found fame (dog sitters on Rover.com reached out to his owners to ask whether he was THE Chubbs), neighbors who opposed the dog park found themselves being threatened by anonymous commenters online. They said strangers have driven past their houses to beep, yell and create more noise.
Dog owners shared the address of the park on Reddit to encourage people with particularly vociferous pooches to visit. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., brought his 3-year-old Siberian husky, Toby, to the park to sniff out the situation. The president of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, better known as PETA, sent a letter reminding the board that dog parks are the “canine version of a human happy hour.”
By the time the board convened Monday night to make its decision about the park’s fate, it had received more than 110 pages of letters filled with extensive bulleted lists, references to research journals and analyses of canine bowel movements.
“For the sake of the total living environment of the Village, resist the forces of NIMBY and keep the dog park open,” wrote one neighbor.
“My friends and I will leave no stone, I mean tennis ball unturned in our dogged opposition to the proposal to close the park,” declared a “press releash” sent by one resident, Patty Martin, in the voice of her French bulldog Louie.
On Monday night, 12 people lined up to voice their support of the park in person, despite pleading from the board that only those who have yet to submit comments take the microphone.
“The dogs are voices of living beings,” said Judi Dash, a resident wearing a “Make Woof Not War” T-shirt. “The nice people who live behind me [do carpentry] in the summer, spring and fall. It’s really loud. Should I tell him to hammer less?”
Their poetic odes to the park weren’t persuasive enough to those in power.
“I saw Chubbs and Louie play together before they were internationally famous, and I would challenge even the staunchest critics of the park to keep smiles off their face when watching those two. But on the other hand,” said board Treasurer Gary Crockett, “there’s only so much you can do when you have maybe 10 or more dogs in the park at one time that are three feet from someone’s backyard.”
“I move to disestablish-” board member Richard Ruda began.
“Louder please!” yelled a voice from the back of the room.
“OK,” he said. “Sorry about that. Are you sure you want to hear this?”
“No!” cried a chorus.
“OK, sorry I asked,” he said. “I move to disestablish the dog area, effective immediately.”
After the vote, Leonard tried to reassure the park’s fans that the village manager had spoken with Montgomery County officials, who are planning to build additional dog parks in the area soon. But the dog lovers were already storming out of the town hall. They surrounded Martin, who was devastated.
“I don’t know how I am going to break this to Louie,” she said.
But inside, the board’s decision seemed final.
“We have to move on to the next item on our agenda,” Leonard told the remaining crowd, “The noise of gas-powered leaf blowers.”