With few barking, dog - Monastery issue unresolved

With few barking, dog - Monastery issue unresolved

CUMBERLAND - Dog owners, who readily admit to letting their pets off leashes on the Monastery Grounds, generally aren't interested in confining themselves to just one trail, they told town officials during a public session last week.

They also aren't eager to leash the dogs, and not so inclined to pick up their poop when it's deposited off in the wooded areas of the 480-acre park.

Last Thursday's session was billed as chance for the walkers and runners who use the trails behind the public library to share their thoughts before $60,000 of state funds is spent on upgrades.

But the rainy evening drew only about eight people and didn't seem to include any of the folks who've called Director of Recreation Michael Crawley to complain about loose dogs.

Crawley and Director of Planning and Community Development Kelley Morris had scheduled the meeting in hopes of identifying an acceptable way to restrict leashed dogs to just one area of the Monastery.

Instead, the dog owners politely held fast to their right to not only use the entire park but to ignore the town's leash law once beyond the main loop.

These owners described their animals as particularly obedient and noted they wear collars that remotely deliver an electric shock if they fail to behave.

Crawley countered that walkers encountering unrestrained dogs - at the Monastery and at Diamond Hill Park - have no way of knowing a dog's intentions.

"Your dog could be the friendliest dog in the world, but I don't know that. And if I'm running, I have to stop."

Added Morris, "And there may be people who are so afraid of dogs they're not even coming here."

Behavioral dog trainer Michael Marley of Cumberland, who's working with the town, noted that "some people grew up with terrible dog experiences."

Crawley said he also has a loose-dog issue at Diamond Hill Park where he observes residents pulling into the parking lot, opening their car door and letting their dogs out to run.

He wasn't buying the idea of letting dogs run free in the back woods of the Monastery.

"If there's going to be a leash law in the park, there's going to be a leash law," he said. "It has to be all or nothing."

He added, "Right now, anywhere in the park, dogs have to be on a leash."

Cumberland's leash law ordinance, adopted in 1992, reads, "No person shall bring into a park or playground area any animal, unless such animal is under control at all times on a leash of not more than six feet in length." The fine can be as high as $100.

But enforcement was a tripping point for everyone at the meeting, with Morris and Crawley saying later that the town's Animal Control division headed by Paul Rose may need to get more involved.

Police Chief John Desmarais told The Breeze he said he can't spare his officers to issue citations but has asked Rose to monitor the area. Desmarais said Rose will follow up on a citizen complaint if the citizen can give him the license plate number of the offending dog owner.

Or call the anonymous tipline, he suggested, at 222-3333.

Lincoln has been dealing with unrestrained dog complaints at its wide open Chase Farm Park on Great Road for years.

Capt. Philip Gould told The Breeze this week that officers on patrol swing through the area but owners disappear up the hill or snap on a leash before they're caught. Warnings are issued routinely, he said, and sometimes a ticket that requires a trip to municipal court and $25 fine.

In June and July, he said, 12 warnings and two citations for leash law violations were issued by his department. But the animal control officer has issued more, he said. She's on vacation this week and numbers weren't readily available.

Cumberland citizens at the meeting last week also raised concerns about the overgrown meadow that seems to be cut just once a year. Not only is the grass so tall that it's covering the trail, but small trees and bushes are slowly encroaching and eventually the meadow will be lost, they said.

Overshadowing the dog discussion is the town's plans for fixing up trails. Generally the plan is lay down stone dust on the existing pathways.

Back in 2004, Cumberland ran into trouble - and lost grant funds - after beginning trail upgrades near the historic Nine Men's Misery monument without permission. Cumberland was accused of disturbing potentially significant Native American archeological sites in an attempt to open the trail to wheelchairs and strollers.

This time around, the town is under strict orders to alter nothing in this area where test pits in the past have revealed Middle- and Late-Archaic and Woodland period artifacts as old as 1000 BC. Prohibited, for example, is root removal and digging with machine-assisted equipment as well as the hard surface coating attempted nine years ago.

Permitted, according to DOT spokeswoman Rosamaria Amoros, is posting the signs reminding residents of leash laws and plastic bag dispensers and trash bins for picking up animal waste.

One woman at last week's meeting pooh-poohed that idea, however. She said Lees Pond Park in Attleboro has plenty of signs, bags and bins that are ignored. Don't waste your money, she suggested.

And one dog-owner said he wouldn't be picking up poop deposited in the wooded area unless the town also planned to clean up after the coyotes.

Also discussed was creation of a fenced dog park, an idea that Crawley rejected instantly with the comment that it poses a liability for the town. Pawtucket's dog park in Slater Park has had issues, he said.

Morris added that owners wouldn't be encouraged to walk, but rather sit and watch their dogs.

The session didn't settle anything, Director Morris conceded afterward. More conversation will be needed, she suggested.