For the background on what follows, be sure and read my post of September 28.
Billie Rosen had spoken: "Willard, get the law changed!" And there was no disputing the fact that she was right. For us to allow a law that effectively wiped out dog sports training in America's sixth largest city to sit unchallenged on the books would be rank dereliction. Sooner or later that piece of ill-conceived legislation would come back to bite us.
So, for the umpteenth time I turned to my long-time go-to person in the parks department. I had met Sharon Brady more than 15 years earlier when I was training Honeybear on the polo field at Paradise Valley Park. Sharon was the recreation coordinator for the northeast district of the parks department. The polo field was a favorite place for people to turn their dogs loose, and the night 17 basenjis descended on us was the last straw. The next morning I called the northeast district office, which happened to be located in Paradise Valley Park. I was referred to Sharon; she instantly understood the problem. For several evenings she had a park ranger hide in the bushes adjacent to the polo field. And ,of course, wouldn't you know, those were nights when not one off leash dog showed up.
Years later, when I was writing Remembering to Breathe, I called Sharon several times, asking her where in Phoenix city government I could go to find the answer to whatever point I was stuck on. And each time Sharon knew the answer right off the top of her head. I came to realize that Sharon had encyclopedic knowledge about everything in the parks department as well as most of Phoenix city government.
(Sadly, as I write this, Sharon has recently retired and, with her family, move back "home" to Michigan.)
So after Billie, in no uncertain terms, had dispatched me to put a stake through the heart of the problem, I sought Sharon's advice about how to attack that problem. She was instantly on board and convened a meeting. I brought Billie and Debby Boehm. Sharon invited Scott Covey, the head park ranger -- a master stroke. A series of meetings ensued in the conference room at the northeast district office.
One of the major sticking points for the rangers and other law enforcement officers had always been how to distinguish the serious dog training person from the scofflaw who's out there playing with the dog off leash. The scofflaws had long since learned to say, "Oh, I'm training my dog for obedience competrition." And how was the ranger to know?
During an early meeting of our little group I happened to say that since the early days of Honeybear I had been carrying copies of my AKC title certificates in my van . . . just in case I had to justify my activities to a law enforcement officer. And I left the meeting briefly to get the certificates out of my van so that Sharon and Scott could see them.
It immediately became obvious that title certificates could be a major component in identifying those who were actually training for the competition ring. Great! But what about the newbie, the person who was training a dog for Novice A? That person had yet to title a dog and in all likelihood might have only two traffic cones in the area where she was training.
We adjourned that meeting stumped. The next morning Sharon called me. "Willard, are you familiar with something called Canine Good Citizen?" she asked. She had been burning the midnight oil the night before, perusing the AKC website, and she had come upon the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) program. We agreed that the CGC certificate might be acceptable for the entry level person training for the Novice A ring.
That got us into high gear. By July Billie had drafted a proposed new ordinance and sent it to the legal department of the City of Phoenix. Shortly thereafter, for reasons I've long since forgotten, I had reason to call Marvin Sondag, the city attorney who had drafted the draconian law that had been passed under the cover of darkness. Here I was, the guy who was leading the charge to get his handiwork overturned. I figured I'd get my head bitten off.
Instead, Marvin said, "Willard, when I drafted that ordinance, I had no idea you folks even existed." (Yep, sports fans, that's one of the purposes of the public hearings that never took place.) Then, laughing, he added, " I even caught our own police department in that net. They train their dogs in city parks. Boy did I hear about that!"
From the April evening when I heard about the February 11, 2004 hijinks of Phoenix City Council until we made our final (successful!) presentation to that same council in October 2007, three and one-half years passed. Nothing happens quickly in municipal government . . . that was one of the lessons I learned as a neophyte in city politics.
Illness at the highest level in the parks department, followed by an interim director, followed by a search process, followed by a settling in period for a new director cost us more than half of that period. Then we went before the parks board twice (and got their endorsement), and we met with and received approval from two subcommittees of the Phoenix City Council. In the interim I worked hard to line up support.
As soon as it was decided to have Canine Good Citizen play a role in the new law, I called Dr. Mary Burch, director of AKC's CGC program. She was delighted to learn about our effort. Soon thereafter she got back to us with AKC's full endorsement of our proposed ordinance. Further, she told us that, if the ordinance passed, the AKC would like to use it as a model for dealing with offleash training challenges in other municipalities.
As we proceeded, I sought and got the enthusiastic support of the major breed clubs, Jumping Chollas Agility Club, the Arizona Humane Society, 4-H, and, importantly, Maricopa County Animal Care and Control. Importantly because, by agreement with the City of Phoenix, they enforce off of Phoenix's animal-related ordinances -- and Maricopa is one of the largest counties in the United States.
The only group to totally ignore the whole thing was the board of the Phoenix Field & Obedience Club. Never mind that PFOC's dues-paying members -- some 250, many of them active in dog sports -- were the most vulnerable if the then-current ordinance stayed on the books. PFOC's dereliction in that instance was not at all out of character.
On October 3, 2007, with our supporters more than 50 strong in council chambers, Phoenix City Council passed our measure with only one dissenting vote. Afterwards, outside council chambers, I did several newspaper and TV interviews. Later that evening, at the request of KTVK-TV, Bravo! and I did a competition obedience demo in Moon Valley Park. And Bravo! became the first dog in nearly four years to train legally in a Phoenix city park.
Next: Why we succeeded.