“The Buzz Around Town”: Arlington Speaks About Off-Leash Dogs

We thought it would be interesting to print a selection of publicly available commentary by residents of Arlington concerning the recent discussion of the Green Dog plan. What follows are unedited letters to the editor that originally appeared in the Arlington Advocate, as well as online responses from readers writing in on the newspaper’s blog. Others, feel free to post your own comments on our blog, as well as to paste in other publicly available commentary that you find. In the interest of fairness and accuracy, please do not edit others’ publicly printed comments but, instead, paste them (or entire pertinent excerpts) in their entirety.

Letter: Off-leash law short-sighted
By Vera J. Bernacchi
Thu Mar 12, 2009, 06:30 AM EDT

Arlington, Mass. – There has been an increase in the number of off-leash dogs I have seen in the last few years. It is possible that all the talk about dog parks and free-range dogs has given encouragement to dog owners to set their dogs free all over Arlington. It is illegal. It is dangerous. And it is an abomination.

During a recent warm spell, as I was walking along Massachusetts Avenue in early evening, I saw more dogs that were off-leash than on. One young mother was petrified because a huge boxer raced across the avenue and stuck his head in her baby carriage. When I chastised the dog’s owner, he swore at me.

I have overheard some of these bold dog owners say that they are happy when the dog officer goes off duty for the day, so they can set their dogs free. Shockingly, many of these people evidently purchased their dogs knowing they did not have the proper facilities for them. Now they erroneously believe the people of Arlington are going to make up for their short-sightedness by providing space for their dogs to run and play and socialize.

I was bitten by a dog twice in my life. As a little girl just walking along my street en route to visit an ill neighbor, I was bitten by a dog — possibly because I showed fear as he raced toward me. Arlington did not have a leash law then. Thirty-five years later, I was bitten by another dog in Florida — possibly because I was carrying a puppy. Dog bites are shockingly painful and they are frightening because, while you are in excruciating pain, you immediately have to investigate the dog’s record of shots and past behavior.

I have spoken with many people in Arlington about the situation of all the off-leash dogs and they are livid about it. Please call the selectmen and your representatives on Town Meeting to share your opinions on this important subject. A couple of selectmen are running for re-election unopposed. However, you can express your opinion on this subject loudly and clearly by withholding your votes from them, if you feel they are about to work to take away your freedom of walking through Arlington without fear.
Vera J. Bernacchi

Massachusetts Avenue

Arlington Advocate Online comment by: gdcook1969
We are having a very valid debate in this town about how to accomodate dog owners – and accomodate then somehow we must. I find in sad that in this situation, where we need to cut a deal that will satisfy no-one, but find the best accomodation for all. The true extremists are those who would use words like ‘abomination’ to describe a dog off of a leash. I’ll remember to use it to describe the poor-of-sight drivers who tend to float down the middle of Mass Ave, taking up two lanes – perhaps we can ban them too..

In this issue, there are two levers we have – where and when. Where can a dog owner run their dogs, and at what times of day. There is an enormous set of options – 1 park, all parks, 1-2 hours a day, morning, evening, after dusk -and dog owners just seem to want something. The opponents here are the ones saying grant them nothing – not 1 minute of a day without a leash. No one here is proposing letting wolves run free in Arlington Center, foaming at the mouth, waiting to maul Vera as she walks out of the local coffee shop. Release in a controlled area, during a controlled time, with penalities justified for those that flout a more permissive law, is a reasonable outcome.

I sympathize with dog owners letting their dogs run off leash in quiet times (hint: wait till Vera is in bed, I suspect). A well regulated program may save Vera some of her concern (well, perhaps not.., but one can hope) – a dog would have to have up to date shots, its past behavior would be documented, identifying if the privilege should be taken away from that owner, etc. And while dog bites can be excruciatingly painful, most aren’t – I suspect Vera is a guilty of a bit of theatrics here.. and there are a lot of things in Arlington that can ‘bite’ more severely – auto collisions, food poisioning, crime, kids making wide u-turns on the Minuteman cutting in front of cyclists… but in the end, I suspect Vera’s freedom to ‘walk through Arlington without fear’ is a canard – fear to her is a cudgel used to enforce the opinion of a zealot..

Letter: Discontinue the hyperbole
By Iain Miller
Thu Mar 19, 2009, 06:30 AM EDT

Arlington, Mass. – I have read with interest a recent letter (March 12) in opposition to the town’s Green Dog proposals and find myself, once again, saddened by the tone and hyperbole employed. The letter in question alleges that the “people of Arlington” are not obligated to provide parks for people exercising their dogs off-leash. Of course, they do not — the writer should remember that our parks are multi-use and that their maintenance is provided by all taxpayers, including the thousands of responsible dog-owners of Arlington, who are of course also “people of Arlington.” No individual lobby group should be in a position to exercise a veto over legitimate use.

The letter also implies that off-leash dogs are more likely to bite. This is contrary to the published literature in this field, which documents that leashed dogs are twice as likely to bite, due to the higher stress levels and defensive reactions.

So, lets stick to the facts, discontinue the hyperbole, and be reasonable about all this. There is no “abomination” here (as the writer alleges) — only reasonable people trying to find a middle ground. Dog owners need a way to exercise and socialize their animal friends. This is a both an animal rights and a basic civil tolerance issue, which should not excessively vex a progressive town such as Arlington. Lets keep the debate civil and reasonable and find a middle ground, whether it is fenced dog parks or the hybrid Green Dog proposal currently on the table.
Iain Miller
Kensington Park

Letter: Before voting, answer this
By Bob Radochia
Thu Mar 19, 2009, 06:30 AM EDT

Arlington, Mass. – After reviewing the Green Dog Pilot Project Proposal presented at the Feb. 23, 2009 selectmen’s meeting several times, I have come to the conclusion that the most manageable solution is to have four to six fenced in areas about the town. To allow unleashed dogs in unfenced areas where non-dog adults, children and dogs on leash may be present is unacceptable.

Thirteen locations seem excessive in comparison to the number of other recreational sites throughout the town. For example, we have:

· One swimming location

· One skating rink

· One outdoor skating location

· Three tennis locations

· Five baseball locations

· Twelve Little League/softball locations

· Twelve soccer locations

· Fifteen basketball locations

Before I could reconsider my position, I would need more clarification or answers to the following:

1. One of the intentions of this program to create many neighborhood sites and avoid having destination sites has not been met in my opinion. There are only two off-leash locations, Reeds Brook and Turkey Hill that are located east of Route 2A (Mass. Ave. and Summer St.). Dog owners in the Bishop and Thompson neighborhoods will most likely have to drive to an off-leash location. Selectman Kevin Greeley is farther away from an off-leash site than many residents of Belmont, Cambridge and Lexington.

2. Will the permit be issued to the dog owner or the dog?

3. Can the dog be accompanied to the off-leash site by another member of the family, a neighbor, or paid dog walker as long as the lanyard is displayed?

4. How many rangers would be required per off-leash shift?

5. Where did the number 1,800 dogs come from? The annual reports for the last three years list 1,031, 1,067 and 1,254 licensed dogs and this year there are 1,100 licensed dogs. If 600 dog owners purchased a permit, the proposed $40 fee is too low to meet the goal of $40,000. The $40 fee is not exorbitant compared to the fees in the hundreds of dollars parents must pay for extracurricular and out of school sports activities.

6. How will the unfenced areas be staked out or will the entire field be available for off-leash activities?

I urge you to not support this warrant article until a more manageable and acceptable solution can be presented.
Bob Radochia
Columbia Road

Letter: Dog parks deserve a trial run
By Dick Smith
Thu Mar 19, 2009, 06:30 AM EDT
Arlington, Mass. – In 2003, Arlington’s Town Meeting voted to add a provision for fenced dog areas to the Town bylaws. The Park and Recreation Commission began discussing a proposal to take advantage of this fenced dog area provision, but because of pressure from neighbors who didn’t want this kind of area in their neighborhood, and because having only limited fenced in-area available would mean that dog owners throughout the town would all use that limited area, the idea was not followed through. This eventually led to the creation of the Town’s official Green Dog Committee

Before the Green Dog Committee came into being, FOCCA (Friends of Canine Companions of Arlington) and, more recently, A-DOG (Arlington Dog Owners Group), which now has about 350 members, were formed to promote responsible dog ownership. Now the Green Dog Committee, after studying the problem and holding hearings for two years, have made a recommendation for a one-year trial period, providing for small areas in 13 parks — including two fenced areas — throughout the town, to be used during limited hours, and by payment of $40 for a permit, for off-leash dog activity.

Those who have been following the discussion on the Arlington List realize that this is a sensitive issue with many strong feelings on all sides. But I think that there is virtually unanimous agreement that something must be done. To do nothing means that the present unhappy and unsatisfactory situation, for responsible dog owners and non-dog owners alike, will continue, and that the Green Dog Committee — if it doesn’t simply throw up its hands in frustration — must go back to the drawing board.

The Green Dog Committee’s proposal is a step in the right direction, and, as a Town Meeting Member, I expect to vote in favor of it.

Let’s wait and see how this pilot program works out. It isn’t perfect; I believe that there should be many more fenced areas. There will still be complaints from all sides, but if responsible dog owners cooperate, and if presently less-than-responsible dog owners are pressured to become responsible, hopefully we will find that the plan is in fact improving the situation. There are provisions for making changes during the trial period.
Dick Smith
Washington St.


Letter: Nothing Green About Off-Leash Dogs

Arlington, Mass. – If proponents of letting dogs run unleashed in Arlington want to change the law to allow this, they should call it what it is: A proposal to let dogs go unleashed. There is nothing “green” about unleashed dogs or dog parks. Proponents of unleashed dogs and this paper should stop this charade. The plastic used to scoop up the feces come from petroleum. Driving the dogs to the new unleashed parks will cause more carbon emissions. If this encourages more dog ownership, it will mean more dog food and there is nothing “green” about that. If new fences are made, a bigger “carbon footprint.” All the paper and ink on this subject, new signage for this proposal — nothing “green” about that.

Many in Arlington might approve of going “green” by lowering their use of resources and carbon emissions, but allowing dogs to run off leash does nothing to achieve this. So, please, if you want to run your dogs without leashes, just say that. Don’t try to fool me that this will help save the planet.

Michael Jacoby Brown
Brattle Terrace

Letter: Please vote no on letting Arlington go to the dogs

by Robert M. Kuhn and Darcy C. Devney

Thu May 14, 2009, 06:30 AM EDT.

Arlington, Mass. – Warrant Article 18 is not about neighborhood fenced dog parks for Arlington dog owners. This is strictly a proposal to license 1,000 dogs or more to run off-leash for hours every day in more than a dozen parks in Arlington.

Residents Opposed. Dogs (clean up/disturb others) was the third highest concern regarding the town’s recreational and open spaces in the Vision 2020 survey. When a dog park was proposed at Hill’s Hill, more than 500 neighbors signed a petition to protest.

Imaginary Boundaries. Proponents didn’t want to locate an unfenced Park Tower dog area next to Park Ave. because of the safety of their dogs. Any assurances that dogs will not violate the nonexistent barriers are false, so the entirety of 13 parks will end up being off-leash.

Unequal Sharing of Resources. For the benefit of less than 1,000 dog owners, more than a dozen parks are being taken over for several hours each day. People who want to avoid dogs (including dog owners whose leashed dogs have been harassed by other dogs) will be unable to use the 13 parks during off-leash hours. Also, there are no planned off-leash areas for almost half of Arlington’s land area.

Overrun by Non-resident Dogs. By law, non-residents must be permitted equal access to Arlington parks. About half the dog-walking users in Brookline are from out-of-town (in 2007, about half the fined violations were by non-residents). Cambridge has also had ongoing problems with non-residents. Arlington parks are already too highly recommended in “The Dog Lover’s Companion to Boston.” If this proposal is accepted, Arlington would have the most indulgent dog laws in the Metro Boston area. Arlington parks would be a magnet for dog owners and professional dog walkers.

Already not Working. As proponents admit, dogs are already running off-leash in Arlington parks. Already, some people have abandoned their local parks because of free-ranging dogs. Already, dog waste is not being picked up. Already, an estimated 700 dogs (out of 1,800) are not licensed. How would rewarding current illegal behaviors with less regulation result in improved behavior?

Worst Decision Ever Made. As the Brookline administrators admitted to the Arlington Selectmen, their definition of success is “nothing got worse” and there is “less illegal activity” because “it’s legal now.” A Brookline police officer told Arlington police that the program was “the worst decision we ever made.” Somerville officials also said, “opening parks for dogs off-leash was one of the worst decisions the city made,” according to Selectman Diane Mahon.

We like dogs, and believe that a few self-supporting, fenced dog parks (with posted capacity limits) could be a worthwhile amenity for dog owners in Arlington and the surrounding communities. But we don’t believe in unfunded fantasy fences. So we recommend that you call or e-mail your Town Meeting members about voting No on Warrant Article 18 (unfenced off-leash areas).

Robert M. Kuhn and Darcy C. Devney
Thorndike St.
The text of the above Advocate letter was incorporated into the following statement sent to Town Meeting Members prior to the vote on the Green Dog Plan:
Please vote NO on letting Arlington go to the dogs.
To: Town Meeting Members
Re: Warrant Article 18 (Bylaw Amendment / Animal Control)
Warrant Article 18 is not about neighborhood fenced dog parks for Arlington dog owners.
Dogs are already welcome on-leash throughout Arlington 24/7. This is strictly a proposal to
license 1,000 dogs or more to run off-leash for hours every day in more than a dozen parks in
Arlington. Please vote No on Article 18. Here’s why:
Residents Opposed or Unaware. Dogs (clean up/disturb others) was the third highest concern
regarding the town’s recreational and open spaces in the Vision 2020 survey.1 When a dog park
was proposed at Hill’s Hill, more than 500 neighbors signed a petition to protest.2 There have
been some neighborhood meetings, but the majority of Arlington citizens have no idea that their
personal use of local parks would be forever changed, and not for the better.
Imaginary Boundaries. The entirety of each of 13 parks will end up being off-leash, since
there is no way that the invisible limits would work. Proponents didn’t want to locate an
unfenced Park Tower dog area next to Park Ave, because of the safety of their dogs.3 Any
assurances that dogs will not violate the nonexistent barriers are false.
Unequal Sharing of Resources. For the benefit of less than 1,000 dog owners, more than a
dozen parks are being taken over for several hours each day. People who want to avoid dogs
(including dog owners whose leashed dogs have been harassed by other dogs) will be unable to
use the 13 parks during off-leash hours. Also, there are no planned off-leash areas whatsoever
in the area north of Massachusetts Ave in East Arlington or north of Summer Street/Washington
St. in the rest of Arlington – i.e., almost half of Arlington’s land area.4 So the stated goal of
neighborhood dog parks spreading the burden is obviously unmet.
Overrun by Non-resident Dogs. By law, non-residents must be permitted equal access to
Arlington parks.5 According to the administrators of the Brookline program, about half their
dog-walking users are from out-of-town6 (and in 2007, about half the fined violations were by
non-residents7). Cambridge has had ongoing problems because their off-leash areas are so
attractive to non-residents. Arlington parks are already too highly recommended in The Dog
Lover’s Companion to Boston.8 If this proposal is accepted, Arlington would have the most
indulgent dog laws in the Metro Boston area, and Arlington parks would be a magnet for dog
owners and professional dog walkers.
Already not Working. As proponents admit, dogs are already running off-leash in Arlington
parks. Already, some people have abandoned their local parks because of free-ranging dogs.
Already, dog waste is not being picked up. Already, an estimated 700 dogs (out of 1,800) are
not licensed.9 How would rewarding current illegal behaviors with less regulation result in
improved behavior? If the promised “peer pressure” by other dog owners doesn’t work now,
why would it magically work in the future? Enforcement of the current leash laws, Warrant
Article 21 (Gated Dog Parks), and Warrant Article 23 (Increase Dog Licensing Fees), are
efforts to mitigate the current situation. Legalizing more dogs off-leash (whether or not
enforcement is increased) would create more problems than it solves.
Worst Decision Ever Made. The results of these programs in other towns are clear. As the
Brookline administrators admitted to the Arlington Selectmen, their definition of success is
“nothing got worse” and that there is “less illegal activity” because “it’s legal now.”10 A
Brookline police officer told Arlington police that the program was “the worst decision we ever
made.”11 Somerville officials also said, “opening parks for dogs off-leash was one of the worst
decisions the city made,” according to Selectman Diane Mahon.12
We like dogs, and believe that a few self-supporting, fenced dog parks (with posted capacity
limits) could be a worthwhile amenity for dog owners in Arlington and the surrounding
communities. But we don’t believe in unfunded fantasy fences. So please vote NO on Warrant
Article 18 (unfenced off-leash areas).
Sincerely yours,
Alan Frank, Pct 1
James B. Crouch, Pct 2
Alia-Anor Akaeze, Pct 3
Mary Beth Wilkes, Pct 3
Julie Chamberlin, Pct 4
Darcy C. Devney, Pct 4
Robert M. Kuhn, Pct 4
George Laite, Pct 4
Aram Hollman, Pct 6
Aileen Gildea-Pyne, Pct 8
Andrea Hodgson, Pct 8
Anne Murray, Pct 8
Catherine Bieber, Pct 9
Meghan Elledge, Pct 9
Nanci Ortwein, Pct 9
Katharine Daley Fennelly, Pct
Paul F. Fennelly, Pct 10
Anne D. Kenney, Pct 10
Mustafa Varoglu, TMM Pct
Matthew Hanley, Pct 11
Jerri Newman, Pct 11
Richard Newman, Pct 11
Charles Bryant, Pct 12
Janet Bryant, Pct 12
Heather Bryant Mckenney,
Pct 12
David J. Lewis, Pct 14
Craig Burgess, Pct 16
Suzanne Burgess, Pct 16
John Belskis, TMM Pct 18
Jeanne Leary, Pct 19
Bernadette McGonagle, Pct
Ed McGonagle, Pct 19
Barbara Jones, Pct 20
Cathy Joyce, Pct 21
1 2007, 17% of Arlington households.
2 Presentation at Selectmen’s Meeting, 10/17/2005.
3 Green Dog Meeting, 01/22/2009.
4 Arlington Green Dog Proposed Locations Map, revised 3/30/2009.
5 Selectmen’s Meeting, 3/30/2009.
6 Presentation at Selectmen’s Meeting, 3/23/2009.
7 Brookline Tab, 05/28/2008.
8 Dog Lover’s Companion to Boston, 4th Edition, 2006.
9 Arlington Green Dog Proposal & Stephanie Lucarelli (Town Hall)
10 Presentation at Selectmen’s Meeting, 3/23/2009.
11 Arlington Chief of Police F. Ryan, memo 3/4/2009.
12 Arlington Advocate, 07/26/2007
The following Letter was sent to Town Meeting in Response:

In Response to “Please Vote NO on Letting Arlington Go To The Dogs”:

The report with this title, signed by 34 Arlington residents, was distributed to Town Meeting members by email on May 12, 2009.   Among the reasons listed for opposing Article 18, the Green Dog plan, this document alleges “clear” negative results with off-leash dog recreation in two other communities.

The paragraph in question reads:

Worst Decision Ever Made.  The results of these programs in other towns are clear.  As the Brookline administrators admitted to the Arlington Selectmen, their definition of success is “nothing got worse” and that there is “less illegal activity” because “it’s legal now”.  A Brookline police officer told Arlington police that the program was “the worst decision we ever made”.  Somerville officials also said, “opening parks for dogs off-leash was one of the worst decisions the city made”, according to Selectman Diane Mahon.”


It seems unlikely that the Brookline Green Dog program is widely regarded as being the “worst decision ever made”, given that it was made permanent by Town Meeting after its pilot period of testing and adjustment.  Of course, individual town employees such as this officer are entitled to opinions that differ from those of Parks and Recreation administrators, as well as from the positive views of the two Parks Commissioners who appeared before our Board of Selectmen last March.  I have personally discussed the Green Dog plan with Brookline’s former Director of Recreation and the present Parks and Open Space Director.  Both were quite clear with me that they regard the Green Dog program as being beneficial to the community.  In fact, Robert Lynch, the former Director of Recreation and the first official to administer the Brookline Green Dog plan, told me on the phone that he had predicted the Green Dog plan would never work.  Yet, he said, it succeeded beyond his imagination, with a very low number of complaints that he felt were readily addressed.  He credited this success in part to the highly effective “self-policing” and monitoring by responsible dog owners who volunteered to serve as his unofficial park liaisons.

To address the alleged failure of the Somerville program, I attach a copy of page 71 from the City of Somerville Open Space and Recreation Plan 2008-2013 (Draft, with final version due sometime this spring).  As shown in the Credits and Acknowledgements, also attached, the Mayor and many town employees and committee members, including those representing Planning, Recreation, Public Works, and Conservation, contributed to this document.  In it, Off-Leash Recreation in Somerville, which began in 2006, is touted as a “Success Story”, with third and fourth off leash recreation areas now being planned for that city. If, indeed, allowing off leash dog recreation was “one of the worst decisions the city made”, then it seems as though Somerville has been making some very good decisions!

Another concern cited in this Article 18 opponents’ report is that “If this proposal is accepted, Arlington would have the most indulgent dog laws in the Metro Boston area, and Arlington parks would be a magnet for dog owners and professional dog walkers.”  However, much more indulgent bylaws exist in several other towns, including one right next door:

Section 2 of Article XXVII of the town’s General By-Laws requires that a person who owns a dog shall keep that animal under restraint at all times.
“No dog owned or kept in this Town shall be allowed to be off the premises of its owner or keeper except in the immediate restraint and control of some person by means of a leash or effective command. The owner or keeper of any such dog that is not restrained or controlled off the premises of its owner or keeper shall be punishable by a fine of up to fifty dollars or the maximum permitted by Section 173A of Chapter 140 of the Massachusetts General Laws, whichever is higher.”

Article 42.5.1 Dogs Running at Large (Leash Law Provisions).
“No owner or keeper of any dog shall permit their dog to run at large at anytime. An owner or keeper of a dog must accompany and restrain the dog on a leash or accompany with leash in hand and maintain effective voice control of the dog while off their own property. An obedient dog which is under the effective control of its owner may be permitted to be unleashed in Town-owned open spaces within the Town. Dogs must be on a leash on bike paths and at public events. No dogs are allowed in cemeteries. The provision of this paragraph shall not apply to a guide dog or service dog while actually engaged in the performance of its trained duties.”

To date, over 671 Arlington residents, dog owners as well as non dog owners, have signed the Arlington Dog Owners Group (A-DOG) petition requesting off-leash recreation opportunities for responsible dog owners in our town.  (As of today that number is 676).  On behalf of such constituents, and in the spirit of respectfully sharing our community open space, I urge my TM colleagues to support the Selectmen’s recommended vote under Article 18, the Green Dog plan, as distributed to TM on May 11.


Susan Doctrow (Precinct 21)


7 thoughts on ““The Buzz Around Town”: Arlington Speaks About Off-Leash Dogs

  1. Cambridge has been struggling with the same dogs on/off leash issues: http://www.cambridgedog.org/

    So has Boston: http://bostondog.org/
    2008: About three weeks ago after almost a year of meetings, lots of hard work by several people and a lot of Q&A sessions with the general public, we have finally completed the Draft Proposal of our plan to bring a designated, permanent, LEGAL enclosed dog park to downtown Boston. With a growing population of close to 9,000 registered dogs in Boston Proper and the lack of open spaces available, we really feel we have answered all the concerns of dog owners and non-owners alike.

    So has Somerville: http://www.somdog.org/
    Google Group: http://groups.google.com/group/somdog-discussion/

    So has Middlesex Fells Reservation/Sheepfold: http://groups.google.com/group/FellsDOG?pli=1

    So has Belmont: http://www.belmontdogownersgroup.org/

    New York City does too–and Central Park is freely open to visitors with or without dogs: http://www.nycdog.org/

    Comprehensive shared-space study on dogs and people: http://www.petnet.com.au/openspace/posindex.html

  2. Anita and Taffy, thanks for all this great information and for showing us that (as I recently posted on the Arlington List), allowing off leash dog recreation is no longer a revolutionary idea. As you say, many other towns and cities have found, or are in the process of finding, excellent solutions. And, as you also tell us, many of the most successful programs are in municipalities more populous and, if you will, more “urban” than Arlington. I think this is important to stress because Arlington’s dense population and limited park space are often cited as reasons against off-leash recreational areas (OLRAs), especially fenced dedicated ones. At the same time, many residents feel strongly that dogs should be only in fenced areas. But, others, including some of the same people, insist that our town is already too crowded, or that, in any case, they do not want these OLRAs in any parks near their homes. All this has led to the impasse that has left the needs of responsible dog owners unaddressed in Arlington for many years.

    Great news about the progress for a dog park in downtown Boston! I look forward to learning more about it. I’d like to add that there is already a lovely fenced OLRA, reportedly ~14,000 sq feet, in the South End (www.peterspark.org). And, I recently learned that there is a new OLRA in South Boston (http://www.dogparkusa.com/massachusetts/boston-cambridge/south-boston-dog-park). Plus, active volunteers in the Ronan Park area of Dorchester are making great progress toward establishing a fenced OLRA in their own neighborhood.

    Regarding NYC, yes, they have had a successful off-leash program for decades. In addition to the shared off-leash hours in parks that you mention, there are at least 40 dog parks. This program is reportedly regarded as being quite beneficial to the community, for example, by at least three NYC Parks Commissioners and by many borough parks administrators.

    And, thanks for mentioning Somerville. As I understand it, in Somerville, dogs were once not even allowed in many parks, even leashed. The first fenced OLRA, Nunziato (about 10,000 sq ft) was established in 2006. Its success led to a second OLRA, opening last year in Ed Leathers park, at ~2500 sq ft. In addition, I’ve been told that two more Somerville OLRAs, ~10,000 to 20,000 sq ft each, are in the planning stages. The Somerville Dog Owners Group (SomDOG) is a civic organization that has grown into a significant “force for good” in their community, promoting responsible dog ownership, conscientious care of park space, and other practices that benefit the entire city. SomDOG and other dog owner groups across the Commonwealth are an inspiration to us at A-DOG.

    By the way, the reason I keep listing the dimensions of these OLRAs is that some people cite the AKC’s recommendation that an “ideal dog park” should be at least 1 acre. This, too, is used as an argument against fenced OLRAs in Arlington and in other communities. An acre is over 40,000 sq ft, but, as we’ve discussed, there are plenty of good examples of much smaller fenced OLRAs. As I recently posted on another neighborhood list, this video from ~1/4 acre Nunziato makes it pretty clear that dog owners don’t need an acre to give their dogs (and one toddler) a joyful and beneficial play session:

    Sue Doctrow (co-authored by my two labs)

  3. This is a recent letter I sent in support of the Green Dog efforts to the BoS.

    To the Board of Selectmen,

    I am writing to express my support for the Green Dog initiative (and any other similar initiatives) which will allow people like me to enjoy Arlington’s open spaces as well as create a safe environment for the entire community.

    This is not a dog issue. It is a people issue. As a dog owner, tax payer, voter and volunteer within Arlington, the only time I use the green space in town is with my dog, now that my child is grown. Taking my dog to the park has allowed me to meet many of my neighbors, people who had lived near me for years that I would never had met otherwise, and even e stablish a few friendships that have moved beyond the park. Every day, rain or shine, I stand with a group of people and learn about what is going on in the community and what is going on with the neighborhood. We often spend time picking up trash within the park from a previous night of “young adults’ activities”, and often several bottles and food wrappers after kids’ sports. Although I walk my dog through the neighborhood daily, only through the time spent in the park have I developed a sense of community. This is a rare positive opportunity to bring people with a common interest into a common space and should be rewarded and cherished.

    I volunteer every week with my dog as a therapy dog in Arlington with seniors and children with disabilities. In order for her to be on her best behavior and as calm as possible, it is important that she stay well exercised and well socialized. To be socialized for a dog means being around not just different people, and in different environments, but interacting with different dogs. In fact, I often use the park as a learning spot for my dog to introduce her to new people, especially children who may not have an opportunity to meet a dog and can build anxiety about something unknown. It is well documented that dogs are more territorial on leash or within their own yards. Without time off leash, it is harder to learn basic commands like “come” or “leave it”. According to vets and animal behaviorists, open running time in a neutral space, like a common area park, reduces fear and aggression in dogs, which leads to healthier and happier dogs, less likely to bark, or be destructive or territorial. That is a benefit for the entire community.

    I work with special needs children who have many fears, including dogs. Most of these fears only increase over time if they are not allowed to confront those fears, in small doses, to break down the barriers to rational thinking. Standing in the park with other dog owners, we monitor and help control each=2 0others’ dogs when other people, especially children and the elderly come near. We are able to speak to each other about proper ways to let people who are frightened, for example, approach our dogs and we police each other on how to be good dog owners. A nationwide study of dog parks shows that defined areas leads dog owners to higher levels of compliance with relevant laws.

    My fear is that without a new policy in place in Arlington, we will enforce fear, aggression and anxiety within people and dogs. With regulated times and places that are reasonable for everyone, enforcement will be based in fairness to all citizens. The draconian situation as it exists now is set up for failure. Dog owners will continue to look for places to take their dogs and that anxiety will foster anxious situations. People with fear of dogs will not know when or where to expect dogs and remain anxious that anytime they go out they could be around dogs.& nbsp; If I am worried about getting hit in the face with a baseball or soccer ball, I am not going to be in the parks during times that those activities are happening.

    We need Green Dog or other similar programs to accommodate all citizens’ wishes, not just a vocal few. Multi-use parks and facilities are necessary to accommodate all citizens’ wishes. Please vote to recommend this initiative to Town Meeting. Thank you.

    Gian M. Schauer
    Brooks Avenue
    Precinct 2

  4. Hello! This is a copy of a message I sent to the Board of Selectmen on supporting the Green Pilot plan for dog owners in Arlington.

    March 28, 2009.
    Dear Arlington Board of Selectmen,

    We are a family of 5: mom, dad, 8 year old daughter, 5 year old son and 16 months old dog. Our dog is a recent addition to our family. She was 11 weeks old when we rescued her from a shelter in Sterling, MA and since her first day with us, just a little over one year ago, she’s been such a joy to our family.

    Our dog is a wonderful pup. Beautiful, extremely intelligent (easy to train), loyal, obedient, happy, kind, super friendly with both dogs and people. Having a dog was a big commitment to our family. As I said, we had two children who wanted a dog but we couldn’t do it until we felt we were ready to take on the responsibility of “raising” a puppy.

    I didn’t grow up with a dog and my husband had dogs that just stayed outside the house. Dog responsibilities were mostly feeding, picking up after it and a occasional play and attention. However our dog, as most dogs we know, were brought into our families as a family member.

    From day one we looked for training classes so we could educate ourselves on how to raise a good dog. We learned that it was important to walk her to places where she could meet other dogs to play and be well socialized with both dogs and people. We also learned that it was beneficial to expose her to different environments: stores, banks, parks, beach and people’s homes. All that to help creating a well adjusted dog.

    While doing so we never, encountered any problems anywhere. Senior dog owners were friendly, patient, understanding and helpful with tips on how to raise a pup (not always in line with our style but still kind and good hearted).

    After one year of joy, frustration, hard work, many laughs, the efforts paid off. We have a wonderful, well behaved, loving dog. She also has lots of energy and needs to run free at least once a day. I take her to long walks in the woods where we can both run free. She plays with other dogs freely and as a result, she’s calm, very friendly as most dogs I’ve seen and around our neighborhood.

    On my experience, it seems that dog owners that have dogs with “issues” tend not to have them off leash. We know of family who had a dog who wasn’t well socialized so they only took him out at odd hours when they wouldn’t encounter dogs nor people on the streets.

    I believe that dog owners aren’t asking for anything out of line. We care for our neighborhood, many of us have children of all ages, and, speaking for myself, I would never agree to a “plan” that would add risk to my family.

    Looking forward to a positive outcome on the Green Dog Pilot vote tomorrow evening.
    Thank you for reading my letter.

    Cristiana Navarro de Carvalho – mother of Nina, Nicholas and owner of Puka

  5. I thought this letter from the Brookline Tab really described so well what programs that facilitate off-leash recreational opportunities for responsible dog owners are all about. It’s about community and sharing, not “giving it all over to the dogs”. This is how some of us, who pay taxes in your town..and plenty of them…like to meet, and keep in touch with, our friends and neighbors. We enjoy this, and are not harming you. Honestly, people, why is this so difficult for some of you to understand and accept?

    By Betsy Pollock/guest columnist
    GateHouse News Service
    Posted May 08, 2008 @ 11:02 PM
    Brookline —

    Thirty years ago, while our dogs played at Schick Park, I became friends with an almost 60-year-old woman who was very active in Brookline, a selectman, in fact, who encouraged me to participate in town-related activities. That was Ellie Myerson, and I followed her advice and have served ever since on numerous town boards and commissions. Currently, I am president of the Senior Center Board.

    Now 60 myself, the cycle has come full circle and during the limited morning off-leash dog hours at Emerson Park, I engage in similar conversations with people who want to be active participants in the life of our town. I tell this story because I believe that it speaks to the wonderful, vital community that develops when people from diverse backgrounds, ages, social groups and stages in life have the opportunity to meet daily and get to know one another.

    Brookline’s Green Dog Program enhances the sense of community in our neighborhoods. Community building thrives on the regular contact that cannot be achieved by a yearly party, yard sale or potluck. Not all community building takes place in the schools. The benefits to the community of the Green Dog Program are numerous. We help each other, counsel each other, hire each other’s children, console each other and celebrate with each other. Our dogs are socialized, which reduces aggression. We welcome new neighbors and help people to feel that they belong to a real community.

    As an example, through the Green Dog Program, I met someone who now does the event planning for the Senior Center; and her children have done their high school community service hours there. These kinds of connections would be impossible without this program. When my husband and I moved from Addington Road to Stanton Road almost five years ago, we were immediately connected to the community because of the other dog owners at Emerson Park. Together, we lobbied to create the Green Dog Program, and we now abide by its limits and restrictions.

    Those of us who enjoy the Green Dog Program take our privilege seriously. We clean up after our dogs and monitor our activities. We take pride in the park and clean up after nighttime scofflaws. We remind others to do the same. Brookline is an urban community, and one cannot expect to find a silent garden in the midst of a bustling neighborhood. We do not offer gated gardens in public places. Emerson Park is a busy place and the field gets heavy use due to sports, children, bicycles, picnics, parties and concerts. Currently, the park is fenced off so the grass can recover from all the activity, as well as last year’s drought. As dog owners, we are in support of this timeout.

    We dog owners share our lives with our dogs and look forward to our brief early-morning off-leash romp in our own neighborhood. The hours of the program begin when construction crews are allowed to begin their noise-making home improvements. When I lived for 28 years across from Schick Park, I enjoyed hearing the sounds of dogs and children. I know that many of the neighbors who live across from Emerson Park do, too. Please preserve our Green Dog Program at Emerson Park.

  6. To the good people of Arlington: from a public safety standpoint I’m glad there are fellow dog walkers patrolling our parks and wooded areas in Arlington. We have witnessed teens smoking (including pot) and tossing cigarette butts on dry leaves/pine needles in the park. A wooden park bench was vandalized and burned last year ; similarly numerous trees bear the scars of charring. Last summer I and another dog walker put out a small ground fire – not sure how it started. I was walking with my dogs on an upper trail when I saw a flash burst on a lower trail, several hundred yards from where I was standing. I quickly scanned the woods and didn’t see anyone else, but my visibility was handicapped by the terrain. I headed for the lower trail and decided to call out in the event someone might hear me. I was glad to receive an immediate response from a fellow dog walker. By the time we met at the spot, flames and smoke were underway. And, this past winter a dog walker spotted youths igniting copy paper in a wooded area of the park. When she called out to them, they ran off. She stomped out the embers and alerted the fire department.

    It’s good to know there is a strong network of dog walkers at the park we frequent and they and their pets serve as first responders when it comes to spotting, reporting and dealing with issues. Dog walkers help keep our parks and the homes bordering those parks safe.

    I’m not in favor of a fenced “no-leash dog area” for two reasons: expense and confinement. When large dogs run by/towards my small dogs – my dogs become afraid. Enclosing them would only exacerbate the problem. For those living adjacent to a park and concerned about privacy – why not install a privacy fence around their property – seems sensible and practical.

    We are at the park almost daily. The vast majority of pet owners are experienced, respectful and know their pets. We share this category and have well trained dogs – but they didn’t come that way. It took years of dedicated effort and continued reinforcement. The reward – seeing the grin from ear-to-ear when we ask them if they want to go to the “park?” Sheer happiness from such simple pleasures.

    We trust that responsible, courteous pet owners will be allowed to have their pets off-leash to run and catch a ball, take a swim, or just enjoying a nice walk on the trail.

  7. Here are comments I recently posted on the Summer Street Neighborhood Assoc. list.

    Subject: More thoughts on the Green Dog proposal

    I know I’m coming late to the dog discussion, but I’m a dog owner who has spent the last few weeks researching the Green Dog program to better understand it. I’m ambivalent about the ever-changing proposal, but as a member of the SSNA, I thought I should express my thoughts, which may be different from how many others view the situation. 

    Some of the “worst case scenario” projections and assumptions regarding off-leash hours seem overly fearful to me, especially given what I’ve witnessed in the past two and a half yrs. (since I got a tiny dog and started going to various parks in town).  I feel that the only way to know whether optimistic projections or worst case scenarios will prevail is to pilot a program.  There are successful programs not only in much-discussed Brookline, with its population density of 8,060.1 people/square mile, but also in Somerville with its population density of 18,132 people/square mile! It makes little sense that no program can ever work in Arlington with our 7,912.3 people/square mile. (Those figures are all based on 2007 records.) 

    [Just FYI – if people are curious about the details of the Brookline program, I found this: http://www.brooklinema.gov/Parks/parksandrec/greendog.shtml%5D
    My thoughts on a few random issues:

    – I was under the impression that aggressive dog owners were pushing a particular plan on the town. I was mistaken. Dog owners simply asked for off-leash time (see next paragraph for the reason).  The current odd proposal is the result of the Green Dog committee’s many attempts to compromise with those opposed.  The purpose of a pilot program is to try something reasonable, uncover problems and benefits, and then either alter the program or seek a completely different solution.  A pilot that attempts to (in advance) accommodate every worst case scenario can end up so convoluted, it’s doomed to failure. That means never knowing whether there might’ve been some way to make things better for all citizens. 

    – Most leash laws came into being when people let their dogs out the back door to run free, unsupervised all day.  Many towns and cities still have them on the books. Today those same laws are used (in Arlington, but usually not in other towns) to, for example, criminalize a responsible dog owner who lets a dog off leash for 10 minutes to retrieve a ball when no one else is around.  This was not the original reason for these laws, which brings up several questions:  Is this how the people of Arlington want the law applied?  Do we want the town’s single dog officer to go after responsible dog owners (who are bothering no one) or be able to spend more time on irresponsible dog owners (who actually inconvenience or even endanger others)?  Is it possible that modernizing the law will encourage more voluntary compliance, making enforcement easier?  Piloting a reasonable off-leash program is the only way to find out.

    – Having met many dog owners in the past few years, I’ve found that a large number have no desire to let their dogs off-leash (either because the dog is unfriendly or they’re afraid it will run off). Those who feel they can let their dogs off-leash do so already, to give their dogs additional exercise (beyond one or more daily walks) and simply to play with them.  Will the Green Dog program mean a dramatic increase in off-leash dogs?  It may not.  Again, the only way to know is to pilot it.

    – Will it bring in people from other towns?  Most of the surrounding towns or cities either already have areas where dogs can go off leash or else their leash laws are enforced in a more common-sense fashion.  Given the size of our parks, I can’t imagine many people from outside of Arlington bothering to come here to exercise their dogs. Again, a pilot is the only way to know for sure. And if we find that a small number of people from neighboring towns use our parks, everyone should realize that it’s reciprocal; Arlington dog owners frequently use their parks (particularly the large parks in Medford and Lexington). Parks are public land and have traditionally remained open to all. We don’t want to panic and restrict “outsiders” until we have real evidence that there are problems.

    – Regarding the poop issue (which I’m very concerned about) – I think it’s important to separate that issue from the off-leash issue.  I’ve “stepped in it” as often on sidewalks and pathways (i.e., left by leashed dogs) as in the middle of fields.  When there are groups of unleashed dogs, I’ve seen responsible owners insist that shirkers pick up.  Most of the poop gets left by a minority of owners when no one else is around.  Why do I think it’s a minority? If 30 dogs visit a park each day and only one owner doesn’t clean up, it’s soon evident.  If the majority of dog owners in Arlington were irresponsible, the poop problem would be far worse than it is. 

    HOWEVER, there’s still room for improvement, and I think the only solution is to use fees (from dog owners) to pay for barrels and bag dispensers (with signs asking people to bring their own bags and leave the dispensers for emergencies).  We all pay taxes for town barrels/pick-up because irresponsible citizens won’t bring bags and take home their litter.  In this case, a portion of dog owners would be paying for something extra that might help keep the entire town cleaner.  Without a pilot program and additional fees, there’s little hope for any change in the current situation.

    – My biggest fear about the current proposals?  If the hours and locations are too restrictive (e.g., off-leash only for 2 hrs. early each AM), the program will not gain enough financial support.  Dog owners who can’t take advantage of the allotted hours are less likely to pay fees (and I think fees could end up being the most helpful part of this entire program).  And those same dog owners will most likely continue to let their dogs off leash at other times.  It’s the worst of both worlds – the same number of dogs off leash with no additional income to resolve problems (such as the poop issue, etc.).  

    Also, because I often work at home, I’m in numerous parks at various times of the day and often (especially from November until mid-April), I’m either the only one in the park or there with one or two other dog owners.  During the off-season when large areas of our parks are unused for a significant portion of most days, it makes no sense to crowd all off-leash dogs into an AM time slot along with people who exercise before work.

    – Regarding fenced in areas – I’m not crazy about the idea because it reduces multi-use space, but perhaps it makes sense to have a few fenced in areas where fearful people will know for certain that all off-leash dogs will be behind a fence.  

    – Mostly I think that change should be piloted and then altered if there are problems (just as off-leash programs were altered in towns like Brookline).  Much of the time our worst fears are not realized.  We would have no bike trails, sports programs, fireworks, sledding, parades, even town gatherings/events, etc. if “worst case scenario” fears had stopped us from trying them and discovering the true costs and benefits.

    – I am ecstatic to hear Jeanne’s report that the town at long last will clean up the top of Hills Hill. These days I’m reluctant to walk there, as it’s filled with poison ivy (when the weather warms up), litter and an astonishing amount of broken glass (I now have to pick up my dog and carry him so he won’t cut his feet), not to mention the intimidating loiterers. It’s both disgusting and scary.

    The current plan is obviously preferable to a dog park, but if not enough people use the area, I fear it will again deteriorate. I’ve now seen that groups of responsible dog owners keep irresponsible ones in line. Again, I prefer the current plan for Hills Hill, but also believe that had we allowed a dog park years ago, we might have discovered, to our surprise, that neighborhood dog owners visiting daily (picking up litter, discouraging loiterers, and reporting problems to the town), would’ve made the property a safer, more usable piece of land today. I hope the upcoming changes last far into the future, but also caution people not to diminish the role that dog owners (out there every day, in all kinds of weather, throughout the year) have in making our public areas safer for everyone.

    Again, I’m not happy with many aspects of the current Green Dog proposal, but I also know that when many variables are involved, it’s difficult to predict whether change will make things worse or end up benefiting all citizens.

    Thanks for listening.

    Ellen Kravitz

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