Off Beat

On Saturday, May 18, Raj Bengali was walking in a Minneapolis park when he fell over a cliff and died.

Two points of clarification: Raj was a dog, an eight-month old boxer, and he took the plunge in the Minnehaha off-leash dog park, a wooded enclave that abuts the steep bluffs of the Mississippi River in south Minneapolis. On the fateful Saturday, Raj's owners, Eduardo Parra and Mark Bautch, were walking with their dog on the trail that winds from a parking lot next to Highway 55 down to the flat area near the river designated for off-leash romping. Raj lost his footing and slid over a sheer, 40-foot cliff only feet from the path. It wasn't an isolated incident, either: Last year another dog sustained minor injuries after slipping in the same area.

Parra and Bautch are lobbying for a fence along the bluffs. That may not sit well with everyone, though. In a post last week on the Minneapolis-Issues e-mail forum, neighborhood resident Pam Blixt (dogless, it should be noted) argued that when the park was proposed two years ago, free-range dogs were to be restricted to lower-altitude areas along the river. According to Blixt, the cliffside trail was added under pressure from the dog-park advocacy group ROMP (that's Responsible Owners of Mannerly Pets). If off-leash dogs stayed within the park's originally proposed boundaries, Blixt reasons, it would preserve the canines and the park.

Parra says park officials have been receptive to the idea of a fence along the trail (Minneapolis Park Board commissioner John Erwin did not return a call for comment). In any case, says Parra, a fence "would be a lot cheaper than a lawsuit if someone's kid falls off."

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