A Substitute Motion on Article 36 was submitted to Town Meeting, along with a supporting report written by a few of the (ever-increasing!) number of A-DOG members who are elected Town Meeting Members. It is expected to come up for a vote as early as May 3. The Report, including the text of the Substitute Motion, is reprinted here:
We support the following Substitute Motion under Article 36:
To amend Section 8 (“Animal Control”) of Article 1 (“Use of Areas under Control of Park Department”) of Title IV (“Public Areas”) and/or Article 2 (“Canine Control”) of Title VIII (“Public Health and Safety”) of the By-Laws so as to allow a maximum of three dogs per owner to be off-leash, under effective owner control, from park opening time until 9 am, in all lands under control of the Parks and Recreation Commission except:
- those lands directly abutting school properties;
- within 15 ft of playground equipment; and
- by specific exclusion of the Parks and Recreation Commission.
The Board of Selectmen (BoS) voted (4-1) “no action” on our proposed motion under Article 36 at its March 22 hearing. The BoS has reported to TM that “behavior of dog-owners who routinely violate the leash law needs to change before a bylaw amendment should be considered again.” With due respect to those 4 Selectmen, this penalizes responsible dog owners for the actions of the irresponsible few. As noted by one supporter at the BoS hearing, driver’s licenses are not denied to all because some drivers cause accidents. Another concern voiced by one Selectman at the hearing was that there were no provisions to exclude out of town dog owners. We respectfully take issue with this concern on two grounds. First, it is unlikely that many dog owners will drive to Arlington from other towns in the early mornings that we propose. And, even if some do, it is questionable that they will have much impact. Second, our parks are public space. Some of us from Arlington now use parks in Lexington, where dogs are allowed off leash. We would hope to extend the same courtesy to our Lexington and other neighbors and, again, doubt that there would be much impact from outsiders at the proposed hours. The BoS report also advises waiting to see what the Parks and Recreation Commission, through its “Dog Park Task Force” (called the “Green Dog Subcommittee” in the report), decides with respect to fenced off leash recreation areas. We are very familiar with the work of this Task Force and, in fact, one of us is an appointed member. As discussed further below, we believe that Article 36 complements the Task Force’s mission.
On April 13, the Parks and Recreation Commission voted unanimously (4-0) to support our proposed bylaw change, noting, for example, its simplicity and reasonableness, as well as its flexibility. We hope that TM will agree with the Parks and Recreation Commission’s assessment and vote in favor of this Substitute Motion.
Article 36 FAQ (Summary)
(See the following pages for full discussion)
- Why propose this Article for the third year in a row? TM transcripts describe the current leash law, enacted in the late 60’s, as being aimed at dogs “at large”, or roaming free. When it is used instead against owner-supervised dog play groups, it prevents dog owners from exercising and socializing their dogs, and from a community activity they themselves enjoy.
- Why propose this Article when TM rejected the Green Dog plan last year? This vote was narrow (88 opposed, 83 in favor), and the need and demand for legal off-leash recreational options continues. Feedback from TM included comments that the Green Dog plan was too complex, and that many had favored the amendment to limit hours to mornings (by 10 am). Article 36 addresses such experience and feedback.
- Why isn’t it enough for dog owners to have the Town working on fenced off leash recreation facilities? Even though Town has established a “Dog Park Task Force” to address this issue, it is not clear when or if there will be a sufficient number of fenced off leash recreational areas (OLRA) to serve Arlington’s dog owner community. Article 36 acts in parallel to the work of the Dog Park Task Force.
- Why the proposed hours of “park opening time until 9 am”? Arlington parks are used quite sparsely early in the morning. The intent of our proposed hours is to be conservative. In several other MA towns dogs are allowed off-leash, under effective control, in virtually all parks at all open hours.
- Why the phrase “effective owner control”? This requires that only dogs accompanied by their owner, and under control, would be allowed off-leash. Other MA town bylaws have similar wording (“complete and effective control”, “effective command”, etc.).
- Why “lands under control of the Parks and Recreation Commission”? These lands would exclude potential areas of concern, including the bike path, Town Hall gardens, cemetery, and conservation land.
- Why “by specific exclusion by the Parks and Recreation Commission”? This adds flexibility, avoiding the need for specific locations to be debated in TM. It recognizes and respects the role and the authority of Parks and Recreation Commission, appointed to make detailed decisions on use of our public parks.
- Why not propose a pilot plan? We trust that the Parks and Recreation Commission will act in good faith to implement a flexible bylaw such as this one. It is essentially a pilot plan anyway, because the Commission can exclude any park, or all parks, at any time.
- What will this cost the Town? There should be no significant cost to the Town. We already have an ACO to enforce the leash law, including distributing flyers describing the leash law. With last year’s decision to increase the license fee by up to 50% and impose late fees, dog owners are now being charged more, providing some extra revenue with no increase in privileges.
- Why “a maximum of three dogs”? For consistency with our town bylaws that allow up to three dogs per household, and with similar limits specified in other off-leash programs.
Article 36 Substitute Motion — Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):
Why propose this Article for the third year in a row?
Based on TM transcripts, major provisions of our current leash law were voted in at TM in the late 60’s. Concern was primarily with dogs “at large”, or roaming free. It was not intended to be used, as it is today, against owner-supervised dog playgroups, which were uncommon, if not nonexistent, in that era. The behavioral benefits of well-exercised, well-socialized dogs are now well accepted by animal behaviorists, dog trainers and others. In addition, meeting with their neighbors to exercise and socialize their dogs together is a community activity much enjoyed by dog owners, as the response to A-DOG’s and Green Dog committee efforts has demonstrated. Over 900 Arlington residents, to date, have signed A-DOG’s petition in favor of off-leash recreation for responsible dog owners in Arlington. Many other communities in MA and across the nation have recognized the needs of their tax-paying dog-owning residents by modernizing their leash laws. It is time that Arlington did so, as well – there has been at least 8 years of work on this issue in our town, with no implementation of any off-leash privileges.
Why propose this Article when TM rejected the Green Dog plan last year?
The need and demand for legal off-leash recreational options continues. Last year, with their recommended vote to TM, the BoS indicated approval of the spirit of the Green Dog plan, to enable responsible off leash recreation at certain times in certain parks. The vote at TM was very close (83 affirmative to 88 negative). Several TM members later told us that they felt the measure would have gained more support if the Green Dog Plan were not so complex and/or if the narrowly defeated last-minute proposed amendment for only morning hours (up to 10 am) had passed. We can never know for sure if that is true, but it is our recollection that nearly half of TM supported the amendment to restrict the Green Dog Plan to mornings. Two years ago (2008), TM voted “No Action” on an Article similar to Article 36 (#28). At that time, the primary reason cited, including in the Selectmen’s recommendation for “no action”, was the need to give the Green Dog committee time to do its work. Nonetheless, even then, several TM members supported a substitute motion for positive action, with some proposing amendments that would enable their support. Our Substitute Motion under Article 36 addresses what we learned from experience and feedback from other TM members, on both previous attempts.
Why isn’t it enough for dog owners to have the Town working on fenced off leash recreation facilities?
Fenced off leash recreation areas (OLRA) have been legal in Arlington for 7 years, but the Town has yet to establish any. (In contrast, in Somerville, a Dog Owners Task Force formed in 2004, the first OLRA was constructed in 2006, and today there are 2 operational OLRAs, 1 more in advanced planning, and 2 more under serious consideration. The Somerville Open Space and Recreation Plan, 2008-2013, highlights off leash recreation in Somerville as a “Success Story”.) Many dog owners, including us, are encouraged that the Town has now established a “Dog Park Task Force” to identify possible sites and work out details. Some of us have been named to this Task Force and have begun working constructively with fellow members. Still, such OLRA are costly, each at least $200,000, based on the experiences of Boston and Somerville, as well as other information gathered, so far, by our Task Force. With budgetary and other constraints, it is not clear when there will be a sufficient number of fenced OLRA to serve Arlington’s dog owner community. In addition, even if unlimited financial and open-space resources were available, a fenced OLRA is not appropriate for all neighborhood parks and for all users. (Indeed some TM members indicated they did not support the Green Dog Plan in 2009 because it included fenced OLRAs.) Other programs, most notably NYC’s very successful off-leash recreation program (http://www.nycoffleash.com/html/FAQ.htm) rely on a combination of dedicated fenced facilities at some parks and “shared hours” at others. We believe that the best solution for Arlington will also include both approaches, and feel that Article 36 works in parallel to the work of the Dog Park Task Force, with complementary goals.
Why the proposed hours of “park opening time til 9 am”?
As noted above, we learned from last year’s Green Dog debate in TM that morning hours were less controversial and that the motion to restrict hours to prior to 10 am is regarded as one that would have strengthened chances of passage. In our proposal, hours are limited even further to end at 9 am. In NYC, the default off-leash hours in shared-use parks are from 9 pm til 9 am, unless a park closes at night, as ours do. This has apparently worked well for over 20 years in a very densely populated city. Those of us who visit Arlington parks early in the morning know that they are used quite sparsely at this time. We believe that the proposed hours would have minimum impact on park usage, and would give responsible dog owners the option to exercise and socialize their dogs before going to work and/or helping their children get to school. The hours will not be optimal for all dog owners, but we believe that they will be useful to many. The intent of restricting hours in this proposal is to be conservative. In several other MA towns (e.g. Lexington, Bedford, Burlington, Acton, Concord, Lincoln, and Wellesley) dogs are allowed off-leash, under effective control, in virtually all parks at all open hours.
Why the phrase “effective owner control”?
This requires that only dogs accompanied by the human owner, and under control, would be allowed off-leash. Article 36 is not intended to provide an opportunity for dog owners to allow their dog to run “at large”, or to enable out of control dogs to run through private property, jump on people, attack other dogs, or otherwise cause problems. Complaints about out of control dogs should be addressed by the Animal Control Officer (ACO), if necessary, as well as by peer pressure from other dog owners. In other bylaws, similar wording is used, for example:
Acton: “complete and effective control”
Brookline: “must control the animal”
Bedford: “effective voice control”, “effective control of its owner”
Burlington: “obedient to command”
Concord: “under the control of its owner”
Lexington: “effective command”
Under this bylaw, owners who cannot or will not control their dogs would always be in violation. Owners playing fetch with their dogs, supervising their dogs playing with other dogs, or conducting other harmless, enjoyable activities with their dogs prior to 9 am, would not.
Why “lands under control of the Parks and Recreation Commission”?
These lands would exclude potential areas of concern, including the bike path, Town Hall gardens, cemetery, and conservation land. We learned that, in Arlington, this is preferable to the overly broad term “open spaces” that was proposed in 2008, though the term is used in other town bylaws, most notably Bedford’s (below). Interestingly, Bedford’s bylaw also distinguishes a dog “at large” from one under “effective control of its owner”.
From Town of Bedford bylaws, 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.”
Why “by specific exclusion of the Parks and Recreation Commission”?
This adds flexibility, avoiding the need for specific locations to be debated in TM. It recognizes and respects the role and authority of the Parks and Recreation Commission. In Brookline, the bylaw change that passed at TM allowing a Green Dog Plan was general (see below), leaving it up to the Parks and Recreation Commission to establish details of off-leash use and, importantly, to modify this use whenever needed. We believe that Parks and Recreation Commission’s role should be accorded similar respect and authority in Arlington, and that it is not necessarily a productive use of TM time to debate details of implementation. In Arlington, we have a Parks and Recreation Commission, appointed by our Town Manager, with approval by our elected Selectmen, to make detailed decisions on use of our public parks.
From Town of Brookline Bylaws, SECTION 8.6.7(a) RESTRAINT OF DOGS:
“However, in areas officially designated as designated off
leash area by the Park and Recreation Commission, or its
designee, a dog shall be allowed to be off the leash under
the following conditions…”
Why not propose a pilot plan?
We believe that there is no need to make this a pilot plan, subject to even more TM debate next year and in subsequent years. We trust that the Parks and Recreation Commission will act in good faith to implement a flexible bylaw such as this one. It is essentially a pilot plan anyway, because the Parks and Recreation Commission can act to exclude all parks, though, we are trusting them not to do so. Under this bylaw, the Commission might, for example, choose to exclude a park it deems “controversial”, conduct a public review process and, potentially, designate specific sub-areas only, or no areas at all, for morning off-leash recreation. And, of course, TM can vote in a more restrictive leash law in future years.
What will this cost the Town?
As we discussed, as Article 36 proponents, with the Finance Committee, we believe there will be no significant cost to the Town. We already have an ACO to enforce the leash law, and we understand that he provides a flyer with the current leash law to the public. This flyer could be modified and could also be given to dog owners when they register for licenses. Also, details, including exclusions established by the Parks and Recreation Commission, could be available on the Town Website. Community groups such as A-DOG and Friends of parks groups can help by keeping their members informed. These groups might also choose to work with the Town to donate signage or other items to personalize their neighborhood parks. It is worth noting, too, that in response to an Article submitted to TM last year by an opponent of off-leash recreation, the Town raised the dog license fee by up to 50%, moving it from the median to the highest range in the Commonwealth (based on numbers available in spring, 2009), and imposed a costly late-fee. That Article’s proponent had suggested that such fees be used for “enforcement”. While specifying such use was ruled illegal, it is nonetheless clear that dog owners are being charged substantially more this year than last year, providing some extra revenue with no increase in privileges.
Why “a maximum of three dogs”? This was added for consistency with our town bylaws that allow up to three dogs per household, and with similar limits in other off-leash programs.
Talk to us at TM: Mary McCartney (Pct 1), Sue Doctrow and Jennifer Goebel (Pct 21), Ann Smith (Pct 17), BethAnn Friedman (Pct 15), and Andrew Fisher (Pct 6)
Website: www.arlingtondogowners.org. Board of Directors: Susan Doctrow, Andrew Fisher, MaryAnna Foskett, Brenda Kokubo, Mary Mangan, Carrie Moore, Gian Schauer, Gerald Silberman, Ann Smith, Roslyn Smith, Judy Weinberg