Paris Loosens Pooch Prohibitions at City Parks

Parisian dogs will soon have more territory to sniff thanks to relaxed rules at city parks. (Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images)

In a permissive modern city like Paris where parks sometimes feature open-air urinals, clothing-optional sections and drinking fountains where sparkling water flows freely, you'd think that allowing dogs in public green spaces would be a given.

After all, dogs do enjoy a fair amount of ubiquity around the City of Lights and can be found accompanying their humans just about everywhere: bars, shops, the Metro, the city's famed sidewalk cafes.

As Susan Saiter Sullivan and N.R. Kleinfield write for The New York Times:

The French cherish dogs. Their high, uncompromising regard for them is pretty much world legend. Dogs are a mainstay of French public life. Almost everywhere the French go, dogs go. When you leave your house, you take your wallet, your keys, your dog.

Yet doggy discrimination at parks has long been the norm in this otherwise canine-adoring city. More often than not, a Papillon or Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen will be rudely greeted with signage reading chien interdit — "no dogs allowed" — at the entrance to a local park. So many trees to smell, so many squirrels to lunge at, so much lush turf to squat and/or roll around in. And it's all strictly off limits.

At the beginning of this year, only 16 percent of Paris' parks and green spaces allowed dogs. While true that this meager percentage includes some of the city's larger knockout parks like Bois de Boulogne, Bois de Vincennes, Parc Mountsouris and small designated sections of Luxembourg Gardens and the Tuileries, the parks that forbid le meilleur ami de l'homme are the smaller neighborhood ones that dogs and their owners would benefit from most: a quick and convenient place to say hi to friends, let off some steam and poop on the grass.

Dog running in Parc des Buttes Chaumont
Parc des Buttes Chaumont is Paris' fifth largest public green space and one of the few parks where dogs are allowed. (Photo: Jacques Demarthon/AFP/Getty Images)

And so, in a densely populated city with relatively scant green space to begin with, many a Parisian pooch is forced to stick to the pavement. (Ever wonder why Paris has famously struggled with merde-lined sidewalks? Park restrictions, among other things, play into it.)

"Most of us have already been given a fine, or have been asked to put our dog back on leash or to go somewhere else," Lucie Desnos, a resident of the 15th arrondissement and owner of a 1-year-old dachshund who lives in the 15th arrondissement, tells The Guardian. "Every dog owner [in Paris] will say the same thing. It's very difficult to find a place to have dogs meet together, and to have them play and run around."

But as The Guardian reports, Paris' longstanding attitude that parks are strictly meant for people — not people and their pets — is shifting as city officials opt to relax the no-dog rules at some parks.

Despite relaxed rules, it's not a canine free-for-all

It's unknown how many more Parisian parks now — or plan to in the near future — allow dogs thanks to the city's newly liberalized rules.

But Pénélope Komitès, the city's deputy mayor for green spaces, nature and urban biodiversity, makes one thing clear: So long as dog owners follow the posted rules spelled out at each individual park, the greater the potential for more newly dog-friendly green spaces there will be.

Komitès tells the Guardian: "If Parisians keep their dogs on the lead, if they keep to the paths and don't let their dogs wander into biodiversity areas, then afterwards we will see."

In 2018, only 77 of the city's 490 parks and gardens permitted dogs. Komitès explains to Le Parisien that due to "strong demand, especially from the elderly" that this number will increase.

This is all fine and good but there's one condition that's a bit harder to get around. Dogs, for now, will continue to be banned from parks that also have playgrounds, which a majority of parks in Paris do.

So the question remains: How far really can that sad figure of 77 dog-permitting parks increase without relaxing the rules regarding (leashed) dogs being in close proximity to a playground?

Dog on street in Paris
Paris is a famously dog-loving town. (Just watch your step.) Dogs romping in parks, however, are a whole other matter. (Photo: Nicolas Vigier/Flickr)

Parisian parks to try 'easygoing' on for size

Playgrounds aside, loosening up when it comes to allowing dogs in parks is just the beginning. The mayor's office has ushered in even more changes to make parks a bit less uptight or, at the very least, rule-laden.

As CityLab details, the activities that are newly allowed in Parisian parks are things that, in many other urban parks, might seem pretty standard: riding a bicycle, lounging in a hammock, playing certain ball games and picnicking with a small group of friends without obtaining permission first (still no barbecues, though). Rules will also be eased on park lawns where sunbathing in swimwear was once forbidden.

What's more, park hours will be extended and the city will actively work to promote its green spaces as spots to naturally cool down during hot spells. Tied directly to the city's climate ambitious climate resiliency efforts, Paris has also pledged to increase its overall amount of green space — today, only 9.5 percent of the city's total land area is covered with parks, gardens and wooded areas. By comparison, 33 percent of London is dedicated to green space.

"There were many, many prohibitions in our previous regulations," Komitès explains to the Guardian. "We had a tendency, I think, to see parks as spaces that were very closed, very separate from public space. We're in the process of changing that."

It's not entirely clear why Paris' parks have long been "very closed" to varied public usage. But as CityLab suggests, the order and formality inherent in French landscape design as well as the city's high density and the relatively small size of many Parisian parks have something to do with it: "... small green spaces have to stay green and serene for large numbers of people. If the city let them become anything-goes cookout spaces, they might end up looking bare and rundown pretty quickly."

Whatever the case, any kind of improved access to green space is a win for Paris' park-deprived dogs and their owners. Now don't screw it up.