Unofficial dog parks meet off-leash demand

March 16, 2012
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(Gazette Photo by Rebeca Oliveira) Cindi and Carl Johnson and their dog Calvin take a break from chasing Pepper (right) at the Beecher St. dog park last Saturday.

Dog owners in Jamaica Plain know where to go to let their dogs off-leash—even if it’s not legal.

Peter’s Hill in the Arboretum, the Peter Parkman playground on Wachusett Street and the Beecher Street Park are not City-sanctioned off-leash dog parks. But daily, dozens of dogs have off-leash adventures there.

“Problems with unleashed dogs is the top complaint we receive from visitors at the Arnold Arboretum,” said Arboretum spokesperson Julie Warsowe. “It is deeply disturbing to receive complaints from visitors who no longer come to the Arboretum because of bad experiences with unleashed dogs.”

The City of Boston only has two City-sanctioned off-leash dog parks, a fenced-in one in the South End and a fence-free area in Boston Common, both part of a pilot program.

In state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) parks, owners are required to leash their dogs with a lead no longer than seven feet, DCR spokesperson Reginald Zimmerman told the Gazette. Failure to do so can lead to fines up to $50. City parks are subject to similar rules.

“The leash law exists so that places like the Arboretum, an oasis for the Boston community, can be safely and peacefully enjoyed by all,” Warsowe said.

Yet dog owners and walkers continue to create off-leash spaces.

Beecher Street Park is fenced-in and wholly dedicated to dogs and their humans. The lot is mulched and there are a few chairs and a picnic table for people to sit on.

“It’s a nice cooperative place. It’s not supervised by anybody, but some users take a bigger interest than others,” said Julie Sherman, owner of Neighborhood Dog Walking and a frequent visitor to Beecher Street Park.

Parkman Playground on Wachusett Street contains two baseball diamonds that dog owners use before and after work hours as an off-leash space. It is not fenced in, but owners keep watch over each other’s pets to keep them all accounted for.

Peter’s Hill in the Arboretum is the primary off-leash dog area in the Arboretum, minimizing off-leash dogs elsewhere on the property, according to neighborhood consensus.

None of these spaces are city-sanctioned for off-leash activities.

“Animal Control officers are supposed to enforce the city’s leash laws. Citizens feeling it is not being enforced should contact Animal Control,” the Mayor’s Office told the Gazette.

In a 2004 ordinance, the City created terms for community-led creation of dog parks: 10 residents must sign a petition and a single point-person must be appointed to liaise with the City and manage the park.

“A lot of people just give up once they start the process,” Boston Parks and Recreation Department spokesperson Jacquelyn Goddard said. “They just want somewhere to go and take their dog’s leash off.”

The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) recommends, when visiting off-leash dog parks, that owners always follow the rules of the park, that dogs always be given a chance to meet each other before going off-leash, and that the park be fenced in, for the dogs’ safety.

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