On Richmond Street, just south of North Square in the North End, a small, fenced in park sits between a brick building and a highway tunnel. Every afternoon after work, part-time dog ambassador Amy Hand brings her 5- year-old border collie-pointer mix Jake here to stretch his legs after a long day inside.
She’d like to do so both legally as a dog owner and respectfully of other residents in a neighborhood with limited green space.
Hand is a founder and leader of the Responsible Urbanites for Fido, or RUFF. Founded in June, the group has swelled to close to 130 North Enders seeking to mediate the messy disputes between dog owners and citizens who guard the cleanliness of the closely confined neighborhood.
“The normal issues are people who forget to scoop their poop, dogs peeing on front steps, tearing up Columbus Park,” says Hand, 36. “And the issue with Langone Park.”
A recently published letter on NorthEndWaterfront.com shows how tensions can flare over dog owners using the Andrew Puopolo Field at Langone Park as a place for their pups to run around. A few “bad apples,” Hand says, forgot to pick up after their dogs, making life miserable for responsible dog owners and their adversaries alike. Parents of children who use the field for baseball were upset.
Such disputes are common in the North End, where green space has been scarce for decades. Unlike the South End, North End dog owners here have no backyards or dog parks where their pets can roam free off the leash.
Hand, and other concerned owners, started RUFF to solve these issues. Alongside their doggie diplomacy, the organization is working with the city to bring a real dog park to the North End.
The Richmond Street area itself is an illegal dog park.
“If animal control were to roll by here, we could be ticketed for having our dogs off the leash,” says Dave Goggins, a member of RUFF and owner of a 6-year-old pug named Jackson.
“And,” adds Hand, “too many tickets and they take your dog away from you.”
This little plot of land, mostly mud with some garbage cans and a solitary street lamp at one end, came into its current use a few years ago.
The precursor to RUFF, an online mailing list and yahoo group called North End Dogs, began in 2008 as a way for dog owners in the area to get to know each other and swap tips on where best to let their pets off the leash. Someone suggested the small, unused plot of land on Richmond Street.
Goggins says this park is the property of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. It’s squeezed into a dark little corner.
“It used to be a place where you’d see a lot of drug dealers, teenagers drinking,” Goggins says. Since the park became a canine haven, dog owners have kept more unsavory characters away with their constant presence. While the busiest times are just after the workday ends, pups and their pals use Richmond Street at all hours.
“It’s better than Columbus Park,” says Hand, “because there’s a fence so dogs can’t run out into traffic. It’s better than a playground because mothers don’t like dogs loose around their kids.”
Unfortunately, space can get pretty tight, RUFF member Sandra Harcourt and her 8-month-old beagle-pointer mix, Honey, notes.
“Sometimes you come in and there are eight to ten dogs. You’re just asking for trouble with that many in one area. The little dogs who come get so intimidated...if there’s no room, you’re forced to walk elsewhere.”
The next step for RUFF is to acquire an officially sanctioned dog park, a process that Hand says is moving forward, but that Goggins complains carries a lot of red tape.
The organization spends great effort proving its merit to the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. RUFF has identified several parcels of land, including Richmond Street, as good potential sites.
As it waits, RUFF is working to establish its reputation as a good citizen, spending one Saturday a month cleaning the green spaces in the area.
This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.