Pooches can frolick for free at Meck dog parks

Dogs now can visit any of Mecklenburg County's dog parks for free.

Park leaders announced last summer they were phasing out the department's “pooch pass” system, which cost Mecklenburg dog owners $35 annually and required proof of vaccinations. People who lived outside the county paid a higher fee.

Mecklenburg issued more then 3,000 passes since the program began in 2002. But officials said that as the program grew, it became more cumbersome and expensive to operate.

A park committee decided to phase out the program after learning that other cities, including Raleigh and New York City, have free dog parks and don't require passes.

News that Mecklenburg would drop its passes drew complaints from some dog owners, who said the old system ensured that all pets had up-to-date vaccinations against disease. Some also worried about more aggressive dogs entering the parks.

County officials said all dogs still must have current rabies vaccinations and licenses, which are required by state law and local ordinances.

The county has four dog parks; a fifth is set to open in mid-August in Uptown's Frazier Park.