Lexington Speaks out about Unleashed Dogs in Willard’s Woods

Willard's Woods
(Photo by Scott Goldberg of AM DEW Photos, Lexington)
(editorial Intro by S. Doctrow)  As many of you know, unlike Arlington, Lexington enjoys a modern leash bylaw, whereby dogs are allowed off leash under owner control.  One of the favorite recreational spots for dog owners from Lexington, as well as surrounding towns including ours, is the conservation land known as Willard’s Woods. Currently, there is controversy over dog recreation at Willard’s Woods, fueled primarily by complaints from abutters, complaints not only over dog owners using Willard’s, but also over Willard’s users parking their cars on the abutters’ street.  In response to such complaints, the Lexington Conservation Commission has held hearings and is reportedly leaning toward requiring dogs to be leashed on this property.  I attended one public meeting, in which a member of the Commission said that their primary concern is not with the interest of residents who enjoy recreational use of this space but, instead, with protection of the land.  Lexington dog owners, who have enjoyed a reasonable off-leash policy in their town for many years, are speaking out against this threat to take away a favorite venue for responsibly exercising and socializing their dogs.   (This story is an all  too familiar one to we A-DOG members, unfortunately.  In our town, we have faced several examples of opposition by abutters who seem to believe that they have the right to control the use of our public land, only because they live next to it).
The editorial page of the Lexington Minuteman (Feb 4) reported being “inundated” with letters supporting off-leash recreation. A selection of letters was published, reprinted in its entirety below.  If you are a responsible dog owner in Lexington, or a neighbor who enjoys taking your dog to Willard’s Woods for exercise and socialization, please speak out by writing to the Conservation Commission and to the Lexington Selectmen, your elected officials if you are a Lexington voter.  (Also write to candidates for Selectman in the upcoming election to find out where they stand.)  The Conservation Commission will reportedly vote on this measure February 23 at their meeting.  The meeting is currently scheduled for the Lexington Selectmen’s meeting room in Town Hall, but might be moved to accommodate the large turnout expected.  We will try to keep an update on the meeting on the front page of our website, but please contact us by email for the newest information on it.  If you want to get involved in a new Lexington based dog owners group (“LexiDOG”), please write to us and we’ll put you in touch.
Please note that Leslie Goldberg, a spokesperson for Lexington Dog Owners, asked me to add a reminder that we must use natural resources like Willard’s Woods as responsibly as we can, to clean up after our dogs always.  In addition, Leslie has voiced regrets that Willard’s Woods is described as a “dog park” in some books and websites.  She is concerned that this has brought in people unfamiliar with the controversies and sensitive issues around its use.  In particular, she hopes that users will use extra care and remember that it is conservation land.
From the Lexington Minuteman (Wicked Local online site)
Lexington —

Note to readers The Lexington Minuteman was inundated with letters this week about the upcoming Feb. 23, Conservation Commission hearing about whether dogs should be leashed at Willard’s Woods. There were too many letters to publish, however, here is a collection of snippets from the letters the newspaper received. We’ll have more snippets next week since we have received even more letters about the issue. The meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 23, Room G-15/Town Office Building, 1625 Mass. Ave. — Anthony Schinella, covering editor

Lexington conservation lands are supposed to be open to all. That is supposed to include everyone, even dog owners, but now we might as well stay home and walk our dogs down the street. You’ve decided that everyone else’s rights take precedence. You’ve been swayed by abutters who come in with photos of dog poop, and cry how their lives and health are being negatively impacted by cars on their street, and dogs in the conservation land next to their homes. — Frances Gillespie, Gleason Road

It seems the current compromise is to require dogs in Willard’s Woods to be leashed at all times. This is a simple and straightforward solution to many of our issues in this conservation area. Unfortunately, it is almost the same as banning dogs. I walk my dogs on leash on the streets, in the town center, and other areas. The joy of Willard’s was to allow my dogs off leash. — Mark Eykholt, Patterson Road

I am a conscientious dog owner and diligent about dog waste removal. I know that having to leash my dog at Willard’s Woods would stop me from using the space. When the rights of some are restricted, it is called discrimination. How can it be that a few people can disallow the many access to a public space and restrict their freedom? When one space becomes restricted what’s to stop the spread of restriction? — Sheri Foreman, Peachtree Road

We have been residents for 30 years, with and without dogs, and we treasure the freedom that our dogs have enjoyed. A small minority of owners may not be as responsible as they need to be, but to deny all dogs the opportunity to run free is unconscionable. They simply cannot get enough exercise if they are always leashed. — Pat and Audrey Sallese, Lowell Street

Of course the woods are a great resource for other types of recreational activity — jogging, hiking, etc. — but these activities are generally not ones in which one meets, converses with, and gets to know other park users. The nature of the experience with the dogs off-leash — in which we are letting the dogs socialize, run, play, etc. — fosters a type of camaraderie that is increasingly rare in today’s society, and it would be a great loss to our community were it to become unavailable. — Evan Ziporyn, Turning Mill Road

I am a Lexington resident and have been one for 42 years. I am also a dog owner. Although there are a few “bad dog” (or perhaps bad pet owners) the majority of the dogs are friendly and obedient. As stated on the Lexington High School auditorium wall … Lexington is the Birth Place of a Free America. Please allow our dogs to have a little bit of freedom as well. — Joanne Kaye, Peachtree Road

My own unscientific survey would estimate that 90 percent of people walking the park are dog owners; and I have never witnessed bad or aggressive behavior from any dogs. Most are off leash but under owner’s command, some are leashed, and the experience has been incredibly positive. With 44 percent of U.S. families owning a dog and the overwhelming majority of people walking in Willard’s Woods having a dog, it seems to me that restricting Conservation Land in Lexington to either leashed dogs or banned to dogs, would prevent the very people that enjoy and value the conservation land from using it fully. — Enrico Cagliero, Paul Revere Road

This ruling is prejudiced and unfair to the hundreds of dog owners and users of Willard’s Woods that maintain control over their dogs, pick up after their pets and obey the rules. It is a travesty of justice and fairness that a small number of people that break the rules will be allowed to take away the rights of the vast majority of law abiding citizens. A leash rule may be an easy answer but it is far from fair or right. — Douglas J. Luckerman, Outlook Drive

There are few places for a dog to vigorously exercise in Lexington, and walking on-leash would not fulfill that exercise requirement. Which brings up another source of irritation — the lack of sidewalks in Lexington neighborhoods. Clearly, wandering in the streets while walking the dog can’t be desirable. — Ann McCartan, Lincoln Street

I revel in the beauty of the landscape at different times of day, various weather conditions and all seasons. As a local artist I have painted over a hundred canvases of Willard’s Woods. Walking there is often the highlight of my day both because of the natural beauty and the camaraderie of spending time with other dog people and their pets. Being off leash is certainly the best part of my dog’s day. Her happiness while playing with other dogs and running after tennis balls is a joy to see. — Laurel Cook Lhowe, Percy Road

As an avid dog-lover and frequent visitor to Willard’s Woods I was appalled by the Conservation Commission’s decision. Being able to walk dogs off-leash at the Woods brings immense joy to so many people. Requiring leashes at all times would have the same effect as banning dogs as there would no longer be a reason to walk at Willard’s Woods versus down the street by our homes. The point of going to the Woods is for the dogs to have space to run freely and play with other dogs. — Sharon Olofsson, Hill Street

My husband and I take our dog over there for off leash walks and play time for the dog. It something we all really enjoy. If the dog is required to be on a leash it would defeat the purpose of our trip to Willard’s Woods to give the dog good exercise and socialization and well as for us to enjoy the beauty while we walk together. We leash our dog in and out of the woods and always clean up after him as well as observing the proper parking. It has always been a really nice experience meeting other people, with and without dogs. — Karen & John Buschini, Tower Road

The problem is those owners who do not pick up their dog waste. This is a small percentage but it is enough to cause great concern. Both dog owners and non-dog owners who enjoy the woods are disgusted by this behavior. How to solve it? Well certainly not by requiring dogs to remain on leash. Those that do not pick up will continue to do so whether their dog is leashed or not. Dogs off-leash behave much better than leashed dogs who often feel trapped and/or protective of their owners and can act aggressive towards other dogs. Any reputable dog trainer/professional will tell you this. — Dayle Ballentine, Tower Road

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