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Incident at park revives discussions on creating off-leash dog area

Posted by Roy Greene  December 29, 2010 02:41 PM

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A recent encounter between an unleashed dog and a trainer at Millennium Park in West Roxbury has renewed discussions about turning part of the property into an off-leash play area for canines.

Signs throughout Millennium Park state that dogs must be leashed at all times, but some owners ignore the notices and let their pets romp freely. A Nov. 6 episode has caused some people to ask for a dog-only park in which dogs could roam free, while other residents support keeping restrictions in place.

A police report indicates that the owner of a basset hound accused a dog trainer of abusing her pet with a whip. But witnesses said the trainer from Pawsitive Dog only swung a leash in the dog’s direction to stop the dog from interfering in the training session.

Then, the training-group participants criticized the basset hound’s owner, who allegedly had the dog off-leash and did not respond to requests to leash the animal.

The incident was first reported by West Rroxbury Patch.

Diane Maracic from West Roxbury walks her two dogs regularly at Millennium Park. She said a socialized dog park should be created there.

"Off-leash dog space would be excellent," Maracic said. "Just like what’s going on in Brookline recently. I’ve said this to the mayor before. If I had to get a tag for my dogs, I would definitely pay for it."

[Brookline officials are proposing to charge a fee for the right to let dogs run off-leash in designated parks.]

"It should be a socialized park," Maracic continued. "Owners need to be responsible and also pick up after themselves."

A Dedham man who identified himself only as Bill said he frequently brings his dog to Millennium Park. He also would strongly support a dog-only park.

"I’m all for it," he said. "There have been a couple incidents of dogs jumping on kids, and I think a dog-only park would take care of that."

West Roxbury resident Arthur Montgomery, who walks his dog regularly at Millennium, said he would need to see the plan first before making his decision.

"I wouldn’t want to see just a small space for dogs," Montgomery said. "Sometimes, those types of parks are only 20 by 20 [feet]. That’s just not enough space for dogs to run around. "

A West Roxbury man who declined to give his name said he does not own a dog. He frequently jogs around the park, and has no interest in seeing an off-leash area created.

“Dogs have never bothered me,” he said. “I’ve been running here for years and it’s been fine. I don’t see why we have to change this place up. It’d be a waste. I like running here and don’t want to get kicked out.”

Matt O’Malley, the newly elected Boston City Councilor for West Roxbury, Jamaica Plain and small parts of Roslindale and Mission Hill, said that he supports the creation of a dog park in the Parkway.

“I talked about creating a dog park in my campaign,” O’Malley said. “Millennium Park would be a great place for one. Other parts of the city, in the South End and Dorchester, have had great success with dog parks. I’m going to see if we can bring this topic up soon.”

O’Malley said it is critical to work with all parties involved during this process.

“We would meet with neighborhood and civic leaders,” he said. “Meeting with residents is very important, of course. We would look at various models. Also, identifying the location of the dog park is key.”

Michele Biscoe, chairwoman of the Somerville Dog Owners Group, said it is important that everyone’s needs be addressed during this process. Somerville has three off-leash parks.

“There is no cookie-cutter solution,” Biscoe said. “You have to work with the community and find out what people want. It’s always specific to that area. There are different ways to address off-leash recreation.”

J. Alain Ferry, the leader of BostonDOG, an organization that focuses on the establishment of dog parks in and across the city, said there are many benefits of a dog recreation space.

“It gives dogs a safe and enclosed environment to run around,” Ferry said. “They won’t get hit by a car or run into a cyclist’s path. A dog park would also help dogs socialize and behave better.

“It’s a good tool for enforcing off-leash policy,” he continued. “People have been complaining about dogs roaming around without leashes. When you establish a closed area, it is much easier to enforce the policy in other places.”

Ferry also said that establishing a dog park fosters a better sense of community.

“It’s common in New York City for non-dog owners to observe dogs playing,” he said. “Instead of building animosity, these dog parks can cause harmony between the groups.”

Ferry said that with creating a dog park, there is usually some opposition. Non-dog owners are usually upset, as well as some dog owners.

“Non-dog owners might not want their tax dollars going toward it,” Ferry said. “Abutters are generally against dog park creation. Also, some dog owners want to let their dogs roam around and not be restricted.”

Geoff Doerre, a board member of the Friends of Ronan Park in Dorchester, was involved over the last couple of years in the Ronan dog park planning and construction project. Doerre said he had to present plans about the dog park to a neighborhood group, and the group was very concerned.

“They were afraid of aggressive breeds in the park, barking, cleanliness,” Doerre said. “Overuse by professional dog walkers was also a concern at the start, so we established three dogs per person as a rule. They didn’t want people coming with a van full of dogs. People were concerned that you can’t clean everything and control the dogs at the same time.”

Establishing a dog park takes a great amount of planning, organization, and volunteers, according to Doerre.

“There is a heck of a lot of work, commitment, and money,” he said. “We had to do a lot of fund-raising and volunteer work for this project. It takes great dedication.”

Ferry said that the dog park creation process begins when a group of dog owners work on a detailed proposal which is then presented to the Boston Parks and Recreation Department.

"A group of dog owners, like the Friends of Peters Park in the South End, put forth a plan with the explanations of how it will be funded,” Ferry said. “The group should also get letters of support from civic organizations.”

Mary Hines, spokeswoman for the Boston Parks & Recreation Department, said no formal application for a dog preserve in Millennium Park has been submitted.

“A typical applicant in the past has been just neighbors who get together and start talking,” Hines said. “They’ll then bring it to us.”

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and the Boston University News Service.

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