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Dogs Could Get Off-Leash Time at Somerville's Parks

Alderman At-Large Dennis Sullivan said Somerville should consider adopting Brookline's "Green Dog Program."

Somerville has three designated dog parks, but a proposal put forth by one alderman could allow dogs to run around off-leash at more of Somerville's parks.

Alderman At-Large Dennis Sullivan suggested the city consider adopting something similar to Brookline's "Green Dog Program," which sets up designated off-leash times at 14 parks across the town. People who want to participate pay a fee, and their dogs get a special green tag allowing them to participate.

Sullivan said Somerville's dog parks are great, but they're not "easily accessible," particularly for residents in West Somerville, because the three parks are in the eastern part of the city.

The proposal would "create an area where dog owners and dogs can recreate and exercise close to their home," he said.

The alderman said the proposal could also generate some revenue for the city.

When he takes his dog to the park on New Washington Street, sometimes "you see a van pull up. It'll be a nondescript dog-walking service, and out will come 10 dogs with the dog walker," he said.

He added, "I'm not sure how I feel about that … because we're augmenting that person's business and we're not getting anything from it."

Also, people from neighboring towns come to Somerville with their dogs, he said, "and we're not getting anything for it."

In Brookline residents pay $50 a year to participate in the Green Dog Program. Non-residents pay $100; commercial dog-walkers from Brookline pay $100, and commercial dog-walkers from other towns pay $200. There are also two-day and one-week permits for guests. Dog walkers are limited to three dogs at a time.

Different parks have different off-leash hours. Some allow off-leash time from dawn until 9 a.m., some from dawn until 1 p.m., and some have different hours during different seasons.

Here in Somerville, some aldermen voiced concerns about the proposal.

Ward 2 Alderman Maryann Heuston said, "I know there are several parks in my ward where people are very concerned about off-leash dogs, about a portion of [the park] being turned into a dog park." This is especially true at Lincoln Park, she said.

"People have concerns on each end of this," she said. "It's going to be a robust discussion."

Alderman At-Large Bruce Desmond said opening up the parks to off-leash dogs could come with problems with people not following the rules, and that could require policing.

The proposal was sent to the Committee on Housing and Community Development for more discussion.

Courtney O'Keefe March 18, 2013 at 05:41 PM
As I read it, this isn't an ordinance, but a program that would be funded by the fee (minimal is my hope) charged to those who want to use it. Should no one want to use the program, it doesn't get implemented.
Joe Lynch March 18, 2013 at 07:30 PM
If by "western part of the city" the supporters mean using parks in ward's 6 and 7, let the residents of those areas weigh in on that. As for ward five, we already have two "de-facto" off leash dog parks. The community path that is in ward five is loaded with dogs, (on and off) and the park at the end of Woodbine is used as an off leash dog park. Please, no off leash dogs at Trum Field, the toddler park at Trum or at the Henry Hanson Park in Magoun Square.
Sue de Nim March 19, 2013 at 01:58 AM
Right on! Dogs are people too and deserve the same rights and responsibilites that we chauvinistically reserve for human beings. Dogs should receive the same treatment afforded human beings who run unclothed through the parks, defecating in public and occasionally chasing or biting other people. If such human beings are allowed to roam through our public spaces without restraint, why shouldn't the same go for dogs?
C L March 19, 2013 at 09:19 AM
This is an insane proposal. How about if Somerville follows the lead of functional cities and towns everywhere that effectively enforce their leash laws? THAT would be innovative. Leash laws were created for a reason - because off-leash dogs are unpredictable and they, at best, jump up on others and poop out of sight. I hope it calls attention to how messed up the CURRENT dog situation is. There is NO WAY that putting into place a complicated program will cause there to be more compliance. It'll just cause more dog-free people (especially with kids) to move out of the city, and maybe more dog owners to move in. You'll eventually have to create a fenced in human-space for people, while the dog doo-doo piles up on the sidwalks and grass everywhere else. What a shame.
sean March 19, 2013 at 11:54 AM
With the dense population and the large number of dogs per resident in Somerville, the city needs to be more dog FRIENDLY! (including dog friendly business) Allowing off leash dog areas is a great thing for the condo-ized city of Somerville. Being a DINK (dual income, no kids) resident of the city, I pay all the same taxes and non-sense that families with 2-4 children have, and I get nothing for it. Perhaps now my dogs will get to enjoy some off leash time. Like all the children here in Somerville, they get to run around and scream, and their parents can't control them, but that acceptable! Just food for thought!
AHM March 19, 2013 at 11:54 AM
Just shows you the city has truly gone to the dogs<G>.
jo March 19, 2013 at 12:58 PM
After the snow finally melted from all of the storms that we had............I found piles of poop on my sidewalk.-- how would you like it if my grandchildren pooped on your sidewalk?
sean March 19, 2013 at 01:15 PM
Walking around the city, I've seen my share of used diapers on the street, too!
Friendly Neighborhood 'Villen March 19, 2013 at 01:45 PM
The park at the end of Woodbine, aka Somerville Junction Park, is great for off leash dogs. Unfortunately, now there is a police car that just likes to park there and hand out tickets the second someone drops the leash. I would think the police in Somerville would make better use of their time, but apparently there's big money in those off leash dogs...
C March 19, 2013 at 01:53 PM
I think this is a great idea. Why not allow dogs on trum field? The field just sits there during the winter and there is no closer field to take to the dog to off leash with grass. Yes owners need to be responsible and pick up after their pets. I love this idea because it gives the dogs GRASS to run in and not gravel.
Tori F March 19, 2013 at 01:57 PM
I just read through all of these comments, and most are truly discouraging. I hope that the people who feel so strongly and negatively against dogs using green space during certain hours don't have dogs. I literally love my dog like she is my child. I walk her on leash ALWAYS unless I'm at a designated unleash area, and I always, ALWAYS pick up after her. She loves socialization, and trust me non dog owners- most dogs are MUCH more well behaved if you give them the opportunity to socialize and make friends. The problem isn't always the dogs- it's the dog owners. Dog owners need to be reprimanded and fined if they don't pick up after their dog. Dog owners also need to learn to train their dogs. End of story. I, personally, have taken an interest in telling dog owners to pick up their dogs sh*t if I see them leave it. Secondly, I take my dog to Prospect Tower regularly (always on leash), where half of the time I see a drug deal, or underage drinking. Do you want your children playing baseball near that? Only as long as there are no DOGS? I think designating park time for dogs is an excellent idea, would provide a greater sense of community to us dog people, and I would gladly pay a yearly fee. I love Somerville, and I'd love to see it become more dog friendly. My dog is literally one of my best friends, I'd take her everywhere if I could.
Courtney O'Keefe March 19, 2013 at 01:59 PM
Like I said before, rigid enforcement and regulation can and will make this program a success.
kevin thomas crowley March 19, 2013 at 02:12 PM
this city is being used and abused daily by developers. it has nine aldermen who think the mayor is infalable. the establishment suffers little scrutiny from the press. the government spends money as if they print it. new residents do not vote in local primary elections. apartment rents are ludicrous. homeowners are drowning in a vat of mortgages,taxes and spiteful municipal fees. older somervillians, and even their children, cannot afford to live here. we run the biggest underage drinking parlors around. the word "boutique" is the coin of the realm. these stories are largely uncommented on. yet, dog crap and bike stories create typhoons of responses. i believe that people who own dogs for selfish reasons in a dog freedom restricted environment are wrong to do so. but we should't take it out on the victim dog. alderman sullivan's proposal is truly for the dogs. give them more running room is a plus.
Matt C March 19, 2013 at 02:24 PM
AHM, have you walked by the parks in Somerville lately? Take a walk by Nunzio Field by Union sq? I will guarantee you that Nunzio has more traffic than any non-dog park in the city. Who are parks for? Are they best left unused but available? or should they be used by the people who actually want to use them.
Matt C March 19, 2013 at 02:42 PM
KTC - you often bring up the same point about development, the mayor and the plight of what the city was. You describe a political scene where new residents do not vote - but the city government is working in their interests. Rising home values which have made long time home owners very wealthy but prevent their kids from being able to buy a home here. Bars and restaurants that have followed the money in to the city and created an self perpetuating cycle of growth and development in the citys economic centers. It appears that you are upset that readers do not care about the change and the impact of it - I would say you are wrong. In my experience when articles about single issues are written the discussions that ensue reflect the changing population - your examples fit this trend almost to the letter. There are plenty of voices on each side - and their counters often find the other infuriating, ignorant or just stupid as they do not 'get' their experience or perspective. The best part about our form of democracy is people can make their voice heard and work to change something they do not like or leave.
T Florey March 19, 2013 at 05:12 PM
So, you agree other dog owners are irresponsible but you think a program like this will be successful? Leash laws exist for a reason. I absolutely love dogs but they can be unpredictable and difficult to control even for conscientious owners like yourself.
sean March 19, 2013 at 05:22 PM
"I absolutely love dogs but they can be unpredictable and difficult to control even for conscientious owners like yourself." Well..... so aren't your teen aged children that roam the streets, smashing into cars, littering their soda bottles and so on..... Quit complaining of animals that are more trained and well behaved than half of the kids in the city!
Joe Lynch March 19, 2013 at 06:16 PM
Somerville Junction Park at the end of Woodbine may be great for off-leash dogs, but it is not one of the designated off-leash parks in the city. Dogs are allowed on leash only. Unfortunately, dog owners who consistently ignore the leash laws in this city only add more negative fuel to the debate over whether to add more areas in the city. I wish we had more open space to add more dog parks. We don't. I wish we had more money to acquire and maintain more dog parks in the ciy. We don't. I wish we could pay more attention and money to the educational and recreational needs of our youth. We don't. Money and space need to be prioritized in the city. Kids, me and you, then the dogs. And by the way, I do love dogs. Had them as a kid, occasionally take care of neighbors' dog's, love friends dog's in my house. So save your "Lynch hates dogs" for more receptive audiences.
T Florey March 19, 2013 at 06:17 PM
I see what you're getting at but it's a non sequitur since teenagers are human beings and can be held at least partially responsible for their actions, whereas dogs are not. If I were to entertain the analogy, however, I'd have to say that dog crap in the parks I frequent is significantly more unpleasant than the occasional mislaid soda bottle. Plus, teenagers can sometimes be surly but I haven't had one actually chase me while I was jogging. I really don't think the average teenager is worse than the average dog when it comes to suitability to roam the streets unsupervised. If it were otherwise I'd be arguing for leash laws there too.
samcoren March 19, 2013 at 06:40 PM
I live in the western part of the city and own a dog - I don't think this is a good idea. Mainly because I recognize that other people who aren't dog friendly or allergic would like to use the park without dealing with off-leash dogs running around them. I would rather see a dedicated off-leash dog park somewhere in easy walking distance to Davis or Porter than split time with the regular parks. Also not all parks are equipped with those special gates that off-leash dog parks have, and I'd really hate to hear about someone's dog running away or getting hit by a car because of that. It's definitely important to give your pooch off-leash/social time with other dogs, but do it in a dedicated off-leash dog park or someone's fenced yard or a park/beach that permits dogs off-leash - not a public space where people want to take their kids to play or have a picnic.
AHM March 19, 2013 at 10:32 PM
It would seem like there could be a private enterprise that could run a dog park for many would be an option. Or people could contribute and buy a space and make one. We like animals ourselves but we get ones that are suited for the space we have so we have no need for a park. But we do know how attached one gets to their pets.
Matt C March 19, 2013 at 10:55 PM
Why should tax paying pet owners have to pay additional to have open space that they want to use? Less than 20% of households have children living in them in Somerville yet 100% pay for them..., why not allow the people that live and pay tax decide how to use their open space....
sean March 19, 2013 at 10:58 PM
That would be a great Idea, however, the city of Somerville does not have permitting nor does it allow special permits to operate a animal service business within city limits. (the ones that are currently in operation are grandfathered)
AHM March 19, 2013 at 11:19 PM
What would be the difference between paying to use a public dog park like they are suggesting than a private enterprise? Still have to pay for the privledge of using it. Maybe the city will find some new way of imposing a pet tax besides the iicense we have to get. The article did state they wanted fees for the use of the dog parks like Brookline. Not my idea.
j.digs March 23, 2013 at 04:52 AM
As a dog walker myself, I would like to point out that there is a wonderful community of talented dog walkers and pet service professionals in the Somerville area. Yes--there are big businesses (mostly based outside of Somerville) who pull up to the park with one human caregiver and a truckload of dogs. It's a terrible set up that leads to uneasy dogs and unhappy owners. However, there are many small, Somerville based dog walkers who are amazing. These are people who truly love working with dogs, who keep their packs small, who are educated about dog behavior, and who are respectful of the wonderful city in which they run their businesses. My walker friends and I are grateful for the OLRAs throughout the city, and we take it upon ourselves to keep them clean, safe, and fun. We pick up any poop we see (whether it was left by one of our dogs or not) and we work constantly to make sure our dogs are good canine citizens. Getting these dogs out each day keeps them happy and healthy, and helps to ensure that they're prepared to be a part of the greater Somerville community in a very positive way. My hope is that responsible dog walkers will continue to be accepted and welcomed as well as we have been in recent years. Personally, I'd be willing to pay a reasonable fee for access to Somerville parks, especially if that money is going to help Somerville continue to be a great place to call home.
Pat Dains March 23, 2013 at 10:06 PM
I agree wholeheartedly with j.digs comments. I am a long-time Somerville resident and property owner, as well as the owner of a local dog services business. Most of my 'colleagues' in the City also live and have based their businesses here because we like the idea of contributing to our community and 'buying local'. Many of us are not just walkers, but also trainers or behaviorists, with years of experience under our belts. And, because of the support we get from so many local dog-owning residents, we're able to go to work everyday and do something we love. It, therefore, saddens me to know that the actions of a few rogue companies, who are generally from outside the City, continue to reflect negatively on those of us who are doing it right. I hope the City will continue in its efforts to weed out these companies and deal with them appropriately. As for the green space initiative, I'm in favor of expanding exercise options for dogs in the City, but understand and share some of the concerns others have expressed about rules enforcement, hygiene and safety for all users. And, as the program and possible fee structure take shape, I hope we'll follow Brookline's lead, charging a fee only to those interested in using the green spaces, but not to those who use current and future fenced in off-leash dog parks, like Nunziato and Zero New Washington St.
joey May 16, 2013 at 05:26 PM
Sorry, Alderman, but this is insane. Why do we continue to reward bad behavior. First bicyclists, now dog owners, they ignore the laws, yet get what they want. If you live in a condo with no yard, you should not have a dog. End of story. Somerville is very small and open space is very limited. Have people forgotten what happened when the first off-leash park on Summer Street opened? It turned into a mud pit. Why? Because dog urine burns grass, and having large numbers of dogs running around on it makes it worse. It got so bad the city had to put down some type of gravel instead of the grass. Is that what you want Trum Field, Prospect Hill Park, etc., to look like? How exactly would you designate a section of the park for limited hours? You couldn't put up a fence because that would eliminate other uses of the park. The issue of dog poop is serious. It is a health hazard, and also attracts rats (something parks are already dealing with due in part to so many development projects and also to the open trash barrels at the parks). How exactly would this be enforced, since none of the dog regulations currently on the books are enforced? Sure, once in a while they go out and issue tickets as a show of enforcement, but then it ends. Would we expect our Police Officers to spend time on this? The Dog Officer? The Dog Officer is a part-time position, people already know they can run their dogs on the bike path at night because he has gone home for the night.
PAULA MONACO May 16, 2013 at 07:30 PM
As a LIFELONG Somerville resident and dog owner. WE ARE RESPONSIBLE! Because of A FEW lazy people you want to punish all of us. Dogs on leashes poop too and I have seen many owners with their dog on the leash just walk away and leave their mess! My dog is off leash trained and Exceptionally well behaved. He is in the house all day while I work and when I get home at the end of the day he likes to go the park and play a little ball and run with some of his friends. He should have every right to run, HE IS A DOG! Yes the police are here at Lincoln Park also ticketing for letting your dog off the leash while our houses in the area are being ROBBED!!! GOOD JOB Alderman!!
PAULA MONACO May 16, 2013 at 07:48 PM
Thank you Tori for being Level headed and Realistic. My dog also is very well trained and obedient. Here at Lincoln the kids scream , break bottles and glass and litter and YES I have seen the kids pooping in the park TOO! As for drug deals they are a common thing in the back of the park and under age drinkin also. I also always clean up after my dog and always have extra baggies for those that may forget.
shirley May 16, 2013 at 08:00 PM
Paula, people with your attitude cause me many problems while walking my dog. There are many dogs that are not social for many different reasons. I can't tell you how many times I have had to ask someone to put their dog on a leash on the bike path because they keep running up behind my dog (esp. at night, not a good thing for any dog). Causing him to get very agitated. The area belongs to everyone, not to entitled dog owners who think everyone wants to play with their dog.

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