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Responsible Pet Ownership: Dog Parks and Demographic Change in Portland, Oregon

By Matthew Harris, Marisa Zapata

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Dog parks are the fastest growing type of park in U.S. cities; however, their increasing popularity has been met with increasing criticism of pets in public space. Dogs have shown to be a deep source of neighborhood conflict, and the provision of dog parks, or off-leash areas, is a seemingly intractable controversy for city officials. In 2003, Portland, Oregon established a network of 33 off-leash areas which remains the second largest both in count and per capita in the country. The purpose of my research is to understand the public debate over off leash dogs during the establishment of Portland's off-leash area network, and how dog parks relate to processes of demographic change. The analysis involved two phases. First, I conducted a thematic analysis of editorial perspectives published in the major local newspaper. Second, I conducted an exploratory spatial analysis of the distribution of Portland's off-leash areas and patterns of racial and economic change throughout the city from 2000 to 2015. Central to the debate are conflicting notions of responsible pet ownership. The notions of responsibility employed in the debate are primarily personal, yet the findings from my exploratory analysis of the relationship between dog parks and demographic change suggest a need to attend to notions of public responsibility. I recommend that future research, discussion, representations, and policy regarding dog parks consider the consequences of off-leash areas as amenities within the changing neighborhoods in which they exist.


Katie Osborn

Pages 1-123
Publisher Portland State University
Department Urban Studies and Planning
Degree Master of Urban Studies
DOI 10.15760/etd.6039
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  • Matthew Harris; Marisa Zapata (2018), "Responsible Pet Ownership: Dog Parks and Demographic Change in Portland, Oregon,"

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  1. Dog parks
  2. Dogs
  3. Mammals
  4. open access
  5. Social Environments
  1. open access