Greater access initiative for off-leash dogs

On March 20, 2013, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

Our four-legged friends are looking for more places to play freely in Somerville, and they just may be getting them soon. ~Photo by Harry Kane.

Our four-legged friends are looking for more places to play freely in Somerville, and they just may be getting them soon.
~Photo by Harry Kane.

By Harry Kane

An increase in recreational areas for off-leash dogs is under consideration after a recent Board of Alderman meeting on March 14. Dogs may soon be allowed more access to run free during designated times in specified open spaces.

At-Large Alderman Dennis Sullivan submitted the resolution for a program to grant dog owners and dogs more availability for off-leash play and exercise time. “The concern was that we have great dog parks here in Somerville,” Sullivan said. “But, they’re not accessible easily, except by car.”

There are currently three off-leash recreational areas in Somerville, but some residents say, not enough. Expanding access to existing parks would make life easier for dog owners.

“If you live in West Somerville, you’re driving your car to Ward 3 or Ward 1 to enjoy the dog park,” Sullivan said, referring to commuting time.

Another issue under discussion includes the overuse of dog parks by dog-walking businesses.

Sullivan often takes his dog to Zero New Washington Park. This 0.75 acre dog-playground is located at the corner of Inner belt Road, close to the Holiday Inn.

“You’ll see a van pull up and they’ll be a nondescript dog walking service, and out will come ten dogs with the dog walker. We’re augmenting that person’s business and we’re not getting anything for it,” said Sullivan.

People from Malden, Charlestown and Melrose, among other communities, are also coming to use Somerville dog parks.

Melrose resident Sheila Barry brings her 11-month-old beagle, Mia, to Zero New Washington Park because the park in Malden is not as play friendly. “This is the only park I know,” Barry said, while watching Mia play with the other dogs.

The off-leash dog initiative could seek to duplicate what the city of Brookline has done, which is named The Green Dog program. In Brookline there is an annual fee of $50 for residents and a $100 for non-residents.

Brian Davis, President of Som Dog, a non-profit organization advocating for canine rights said, “I would be shocked and surprised if the city of Somerville ever taxed a resident. I doubt that could happen.”

Davis thinks local business dog-walkers may have to pay-up for the use of the park, and that would help cover the cost for another dog officer.

“We’re pumped, because this would essentially mean that dogs would get to run in specific parks on green grass, and that would be exciting for us,” Davis said.

Ward 2 Alderman Mayann Heuston is in support of the new program but has some reservations.

“I know that there are several parks in my Ward that people are very concerned about off-leash dogs,” she said.

Lincoln Park residents are especially concerned about off-leash dogs, according to Heuston. In the past, leash laws have been violated along the bike path.

“They’ve had some issues over the years,” Heuston said. “I think we have to take it on a park-by-park basis.”

Ward 5 resident Courtney O’Keefe likes the idea of the new off-leash dog program. She said it would encourage dog owners to use these designated parks at specified times, rather than try and sneak-in with off-leashed dogs on the community path.

“To have something like this…I think would alleviate unleashed dogs in other areas where they’re not allowed to be unleashed. It’s giving residents an option, and your giving dogs an option to run freely,” O’Keefe said.

O’Keefe believes that animal control officers and Somerville Police Department have made significant progress in deterring dog owners from letting their dogs run wild along the bike path. “Even though it’s still a problem,” she said, “it’s nothing to the extent of what it used to be.”

O’Keefe just hopes that if there is an annual fee for joining the off-leash dog program, that it would cost less than the Brookline program. She’s hopeful there will be a compromise.

“It’s really about having a good harmony and a good balance between people who do own dogs and people who don’t own dogs,” she said.

Al Weisz is a Somerville resident who uses Zero New Washington Park many times a week. He has a black Labrador named Stella. “I think more off-leashed hours would be beneficial to the dogs and the city,” said Weisz. “The parks would get used. It’s a great idea.”

At-Large Alderman Bruce Desmond weighed-in with his opinion. “With this type of service or opening parks up, comes a lot of problems. People from the outside, people not following the rules, so there’s a lot of policing that goes on with this for it to go correctly,” he said.

The item has been referred to the Committee on Housing and Community Development, chaired by Ward 4 Alderman Tony Lafuente.

The Somerville Police Department, the Animal Control Department and the Som Dog organization all will be part of the community conversation.



16 Responses to “Greater access initiative for off-leash dogs”

  1. amen says:

    Thank you Mr. Desmond for pointing out the major problem. Dog owners have disrespected the parks for years, so now we’re rewarding them. You miss the major problem—dog pee & dog poop makes these parks unusable for human beings. I cannot use my neighborhood parks now (and dogs are officially not allowed) without sitting in pee/poop. You talk about the tragedy of having to drive to a dog park? Does anyone care that I have to drive to let my children play on grass? Some people pick up the poop, but it’s impossible to ‘clean’ the area. so we sit in it. It’s truly disgusting.
    I’m sick of dogs taking place over human beings. They have dog parks, use them. Not another break for people who treat us this way.

  2. Sam says:

    Posted this on patch, but as a dog owner and resident in the western part of the city, I much rather see an additional off-leash facility nearby than shared use with regular city parks. I recognize that not everyone is a dog person (by personal preference or perhaps they’ve got severe allergies). I don’t think it’s fair to those who use regular parks to deal with off-leash dogs even if they do have posted and restricted hours for doing it. I’d rather be in a dedicated space with my dog in an environment that’s more conducive to letting dogs run around and play with one another without bothering people. I don’t mind having to drive across town to Zero New Washington to do it, but it would be nice if there was a park that was more accessible to those who don’t have cars in the Western part of the city – I understand why people would want to make use of parks that are closer to their homes. It’s also taxing on the park grounds and would likely require additional maintenance for them. I do think that there needs to be more enforcement to prevent commercial walkers from coming in with vans full of 10 dogs at a time though.

  3. Bostom says:

    Amen to that, and in addition, how about reminding those many of you (note, not those “few” of you) who walk your beloved canine friends to and from the dog parks, that it is not appropriate, or friendly, or hygienic, to allow your dogs to relieve themselves of liquids or solids on public sidewalks, or against your neighbors’ fences, or into the flowers and ornamental grasses many of us have underplanted around the trees the city has provided on city sidewalks. The idea, as I recall, was to make Somerville “The Tree City,” not “The Pee City.” While you’re at it, you might also be a little – actually, a “lot” – more observant of the poop-scooping ordinances and pick up the solids your dogs leave behind, because all the evidence on the sidewalks suggests waaaay too many of you don’t do so now.

    No doubt Som Dog et al will say it doesn’t happen, or that it’s just an occasional event and that those of us who don’t like to step in it are anti-dog. Not so. We are anti-dog-doo on the sidewalks, and we also hold those of you who don’t give a (can’t say it: I’m biting my tongue) about it, or about your neighbors, in the contempt your actions – or rather lack of action – so richly deserve for your daily displays of disregard and disrespect for yourselves, your neighborhood, and your city.

    Frankly, I’d be much happier to see more of you drive to the dog parks. That way if your dog choose to relieve themself en route they’d be doing it in your back seat and not on my front lawn.

    Rant if you want in reply, but your efforts at the keyboard would be much more productive if instead you took responsibility for your animals – and by extension yourselves – by cleaning up after them. Get real: how hard is it to put a baggy in your pocket or purse and to use it when needed? Or would you rather continue fouling the streets while at the same time making many of us far less likely to support your efforts to expand off-leash spaces?

    Its your dog; it’s your choice; and hopefully it’s your baggy.

  4. Susan says:

    Bostom, I might also add in my yard. It’s amazing how people will look right at you as you come out your door while their dog relieves themselves in your yard.
    I hope the BOA remembers what happened when the dog park on Summer Street opened. The beautiful grass turned very quickly into a mud pit. Why? Because noone seems to know or care that dog urine kills grass, add to that dogs running around on the grass when it’s wet after a rain, and the grass is gone.
    My biggest pet peeve, though is this….when did it become legal/acceptable/hygienic to have dogs inside stores, restaurants, coffee shops, etc. I have a dog at home, but find this practice abhorrent. Could the Department of Public Health weigh in?

  5. A. Moore says:

    I would never think to bring my animals to a park. Broken glass, hypo needles or whatever else they could get into. Our yard is not that big so we just get smaller ones. Right now we don’t have one until my wife gets over it’s demise but he was well spoiled. We know he wouldn’t bite but we still had to take precautions and fence him in. I have 2 scars from dogs that don’t bite. I would assume these would have to be fenced in places for liability. So I would think one would have to pay something for these to be built, hence the fees or taxes. The bad part is still going to be the owners of dogs that should never have had one in the first place. This is a city and it makes it more difficult if you care to have the best envirement for your pet. I know some are hooked on certain breeds which can be a hassle if your place does not support your pet. We just like animals so it is easier for us. And if they do anything it will be abused by some just like most programs. But I think the bill should be footed by the people who use it if they go this route. This city already has too much debt.

  6. placeido says:

    Bostom are u for real? Are u really this much of a bozo? I walk my dog daily….IF he poops, I pick it up..I carry several bags with me just in case…as for his peeing, HE’S A DOG! Get over it…I have no control over where and when he will urinate…you obviously never owned a dog or any pet for that matter…perhaps you would be happy owning a gold fish.

    Idon’t take my dog to the dog park because he dosn’t play with other dogs he prefers to walk so we walk all over the city…I’d like to know where you live and perhaps we will make a deposit!

  7. j. connelly says:

    I think everyone should walk there dogs at Tufts and help this impoverished organization (that cannot pay taxes) fertilize their huge fields. The money saved on fertilizer will help reduce tuition costs for students and help defray costs for the Presidents house which seems to get makeovers bi-annually. Call them and see when they need your dog to assist.

    The past semester with all the students hit by cars there has been regular enforcement for speeders and cross walk violations. Unfortunately the large tractor trailer trucks, dump trucks etc., drive right by the parked cruisers and “No Truck” signs and none of them get stopped/tagged for violating the rule but the pavement contiinues to be ripped up by the weight of these large vehicles “cutting” through or coming from Rte 93, Rte 2. or a shortcut to Tufts.

  8. SomMom says:

    Above all, I’d like to see dogs kept off the bike path! Or if they’re there, they should be on a short leash and the walkers should be keeping a constant eye out for people on bikes and small children, who can be knocked over by a large dog. Many kids have had bike accidents on the path caused by dogs suddenly running into their way, chasing after other dogs or squirrels.

    But creating another dog pit like the one on Summer St doesn’t seem like a great idea either — that place stinks (literally).

  9. Joseph says:

    Good luck, SomMom. People have complained for years but the city has decided it’s okay to ruin everyone else’s enjoyment of the bike path. Who doesn’t love a dog (running at you full speed). They also won’t keep them out of Foss Park, or from what’s left of the grass at Prospect Hill Tower.
    I feel bad for those living near the Summer St. dog park. It was rammed down their throats with very little chance to give their opinion. Imagine trying to sell your house if it is near that park? But again, who doesn’t love a dog???

  10. rick says:

    Yeah, I live on Putnam Street, they took away half of Nunziato for the dogs, they locked the kids out of Conway, they took away the out door roller skating rink because ice fell on the fence and crushed it (the clowns running the city will tell you the kids broke it, but anyone who was at that park knows what happened)… so the kids will have limited access to limited green space, and the dogs will have more parks to ruin…um, and yes, the dogs at the Nunziato Dog Park piss through the fence and on to the sidewalk, just go and look with an objective eye, you can see and smell it a half block away… but you know, when we try to be as hip as we can as a city, the people who live in the neighborhood have no say. Also, I have a dog I love very much so take that for what it’s worth

  11. MarketMan says:

    I don’t care if people want to have pets, but when dogs or any other animal get preference over people, children or adults… something is screwed up. Want your dogs to roam freely? Then move (or at least drive) farther away from the city.

  12. Somerbreeze says:

    j. connelly – Great idea, there…folks in Ward 7 should have a festive
    Doggy Dumping Day, wherein residents take their dogs (the bigger, the better) over to Tufts and fertilize their sparse fields, in appreciation of Tufts removing taxable property off the tax rolls, and its students disrupting and vandalizing the neighborhoods…

    There could be music, face painting, clowns, you name it…

    Come one, come all! It’s Doggy Dumping Day!

  13. j. connelly says:

    Dogs are wonderful pets, it’s some of the owners who are doggiepoo.
    We have people who walk their dogs & obey the pick up rule, then we have the ones who let the dog drop n leave it on your lawnl or pick it up & trespass on your property, go into your yard & dump the crap into your trash barrel. Me, I’m gonna set up cameras & then have the owners butts brought into court and charged with many violations.

  14. dogcrap says:

    these comments sum it all, tough to add anything. just want to point out the current attitude—talk about dogs peeing/pooping on your property or where children play, and Placeido tells you ‘get over it’. that’s the whole problem. he outnumbers the decent folks.
    you used to hear people say, i want a dog but i live in the city. now you get the dog & everyone just has to adjust around it. i stood in my driveway and watched a dog poop on it. i asked the owner if he thought it fair that i pick that up? he was stunned that his dog had pooped, i guess that’s tough to miss, huh? like someone said previously, not another break for folks who treat us like this. and not another bit of green space given up

  15. A. Moore says:

    dogcrap Removing it your self and placing it on the doorknob of the violater does wonders for this problem. It has been done before here.

  16. Bostom says:

    I guess I’ve been away too long – twelve responses, eleven of ’em both supportive and reasonable (OK ten: c’mon A. Moore, Don’t tempt me like that. I know it sounds like a great idea… but you don’t want to get down in the gutter with them…because here in Somerville, we know what the gutters, and the sidewalks, and the parks, and the lawns and the hedges and the tree cutouts are full of. Thanks for the thought though: it sounds like it would really focus the offender onto the problem.)

    Then there’s placeido, who stepped in (too many puns here folks, I gotta hold back) it and made my case for me. You say your dog doesn’t play with other dogs. Your hostility says you don’t play well with others either. Glad to hear you pick up his crap from the sidewalks, but your belligerence, like dogcrap says, outweighs the decent folks. And like Susan said, urine kills grass and plants, too.

    Finally, one of the saddest things I can think of (and hear ’em way too often, too) are dogs who spend the entire day alone in an apartment in the city while their owners work. By no stretch of the imagination are they taking good care of them, and I hate to see ’em mistreated that way.

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