UPTOWN — With warmer weather on the horizon, dog owners in Uptown are urging the Chicago Park District to better maintain area dog beaches lacking effective barriers, which they say pose a hazard to both people and pets.
The problem affects dog-friendly areas of the beach between Foster and Montrose avenues, according to neighbors.
"It is very unsafe and has been for the last two years," Uptown resident Jane McConville wrote in an online petition that had about 280 signatures as of Friday morning.
"Due to neglect by the Chicago Park District, there are no barriers to prevent pets from escaping the beach," according to the petition.
Dog owners complain that, over time, sand has drifted from the beach and accumulated on the large rocks that typically separate beaches from the rest of the lakefront, which includes roads and parking lots in addition to playing fields.
Neighbors also complain that fences that used to extend into the water and separate the dog beaches from recreational beaches no longer make it all the way to the lake, increasing the risk of dogs running onto the recreational beaches.
"The city is sure to get many complaints when that happens. The dogs can run into small children, seriously injuring them, as well as defecate all over their beach," the petition says.
The park district did not return requests for comment.
The petition also says some dogs have become lost after running away, and some have been killed by cars, though it doesn't cite specific examples.
Uptown resident Laura Heller said she hasn't been to Uptown's dog beaches since her 2-year-old bulldog Goldblatts ran after two young girls last year at Foster Beach. Goldblatts "just wants to play, but he wants to play aggressively."
Heller said that two runners ran past the dog beach and into the recreational beach. She was trying to be careful, but her dog began to chase them. Nobody was hurt, but she doesn't want to risk her dog getting away again.
"The risk of that happening is far too great, so I've never been there again," she said, adding that "the beach is also by Lake Shore Drive," which creates another safety concern.
Uptown resident Ellen Szalinski said she's lucky that her 8-year-old German Shepherd Yohan is very well behaved and hasn't had any incidents on the lakefront. But she said she's "been there when dogs have escaped."
"The dogs can easily get over to the people side more easily than they used to, and you've got dogs chasing little children — and that's just not cool from a safety perspective," Szalinski said.
With the summer still months away and a spring that's been slow to warm up so far, there are more dogs and dog owners on the beach around this time than people. That will change soon.
"Before you know it those beaches are going to be busy again," Szalinski said.