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 â€” 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 â€” 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
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 â€” 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 â€œpeople of Arlington.â€ 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 â€œabominationâ€ here (as the writer alleges) â€” 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.
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 selectmenâ€™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:
Â· One swimming location
Â· One skating rink
Â· One outdoor skating location
Â· Three tennis locations
Â· Five baseball locations
Â· Twelve Little League/softball locations
Â· Twelve soccer locations
Â· 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.
Letter: Dog parks deserve a trial run
By Dick Smith
Thu Mar 19, 2009, 06:30 AM EDT
Arlington, Mass. – In 2003, Arlingtonâ€™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 didnâ€™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 Townâ€™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 â€” including two fenced areas â€” 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 â€” if it doesnâ€™t simply throw up its hands in frustration â€” must go back to the drawing board.
The Green Dog Committeeâ€™s proposal is a step in the right direction, and, as a Town Meeting Member, I expect to vote in favor of it.
Letâ€™s wait and see how this pilot program works out. It isnâ€™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.
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 â€œgreenâ€ 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 â€œgreenâ€ about that. If new fences are made, a bigger â€œcarbon footprint.â€ All the paper and ink on this subject, new signage for this proposal â€” nothing â€œgreenâ€ about that.
Many in Arlington might approve of going â€œgreenâ€ 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. Donâ€™t try to fool me that this will help save the planet.
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 â€œThe Dog Lover’s Companion to Boston.â€ 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).
To: Town Meeting Members
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:
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.
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.
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.
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).
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,
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
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 report with this title, signed by 34 Arlington residents, was distributed to Town Meeting members by email on May 12, 2009.Â Â 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.Â The results of these programs in other towns are clear.Â 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”.Â A Brookline police officer told Arlington police that the program was “the worst decision we ever made”.Â 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.Â 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.Â I have personally discussed the Green Dog plan with Brookline’s former Director of Recreation and the present Parks and Open Space Director.Â Both were quite clear with me that they regard the Green Dog program as being beneficial to the community.Â 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.Â Yet, he said, it succeeded beyond his imagination, with a very low number of complaints that he felt were readily addressed.Â 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).Â 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.Â 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.”Â 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.Â (As of today that number is 676).Â 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)