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Trails Committee touts success of ‘Dogs on Trails?’ forum, partial Article 44 victory

by | May 16, 2024 | Featured: News, News

The Trails Committee at its meeting Wednesday night talked about its “Dogs on Trails?” forum on May 1. But it noted the event’s success did not translate to Town Meeting approval of all parts of the article the committee proposed regarding the leashing of dogs.

“As you know, the article basically had three pieces,” said chair Peter LaGoy. “Two were housekeeping. One was to say that a leash was a physical leash. One was to say you could have off-leash dogs in the dog park. And the third was the one we wanted, which was to try other control measures.”

The Trails Committee had hoped for approval of its idea to have the town temporarily test allowing dogs to be off leash on certain trails within the confines of specific days and hours. The community forum allowed 30 participants to share their varying viewpoints on the idea.

“The people who argued against it said that dogs off leash had attacked their leashed dogs,” explained LaGoy of the Town Meeting debate. He added that the town took five years to pass a leash law, so this idea may need time to germinate with the public.

“From the educational view, the issue was out there,” added member Chuck Dauchy about both the forum and the article.

LaGoy said there were three distinct populations involved: those who want to have their dogs unleashed, those who want the current leash law, and a third and often unrecognized group “who would prefer to never see a dog on a trail.” He said the committee should revisit the issue as a means to serve all three groups.

Member Linda Chuss noted that these three groups were equally represented at the May 1 forum.

Chuss, who presented the article at Town Meeting, offered suggestions for improvement for the next time the committee sponsors an article. They included having a more in-depth presentation and lining up committee members and article supporters to attend, speak and ask questions at Town Meeting. She also said the committee should approach the Select Board first for its endorsement and discuss potential town liability.

Member Krisanne Connell, who organized the forum, suggested means to “keep the issue alive.” One was posting signs on trails regarding expected dog and owner behavior. Another was to ask the Parks & Recreation Department if it would be willing to host a dog training program with a professional dog trainer.

Turning to the forum, Connell said people were initially uncomfortable with the participatory nature but became enthusiastic about it by the end. They were also “super respectful.”

Added Connell: “By the end, people were high-fiving and saying they changed their minds on things.”

Unanticipated concerns that arose were the opinions of trail abutters as well as the role of hired dog walkers who walk multiple dogs at a time, impacting trail safety by letting the dogs off leash.

Chuss noted that participants said there were problems on “every single trail” with unleashed dogs. She mentioned a horseback rider who was thrown from her horse when it bucked upon seeing an unleashed dog. The woman, she said, broke vertebrae and her pelvis. The horse had to be euthanized.

Added LaGoy: “Clearly there are some problems with the current leash law and enforcement.”

Select Board approval of charter awaited

LaGoy noted that he submitted the committee’s revised charter to the Select Board in October 2023, but it has not appeared on its agenda. He hoped to get the charter before the Select Board as soon as possible.

He said he would like the new Select Board to take it up as well as to appoint a Trails Committee liaison from the Parks & Recreation Commission. The Trails Committee has been a member short because of this oversight.

Said LaGoy: “Trails committees are something that have certainly gotten their attention.”

He noted that the four candidates for Select Board seats all mentioned “the importance of listening to what Town Meeting says.” This is the only contested race in the May 20 election, where voters can select up to two of the four candidates. LaGoy said this may change the Select Board’s momentum toward approving the charter.

Member Fran DeYoung said he would reach out to Shahidul Mannan, who is expected to become the Select Board chair, to get it on the agenda “within the first 30 days of the new administration.”

Committee structure discussed

LaGoy noted that he would like to get the committee up to seven members. The terms for LaGoy and member Janine LeBlanc expire June 30.

While LeBlanc said she would “throw her hat into the ring,” LaGoy was more cautious. He said he had already served two terms and would be willing to help out on projects at the direction of the committee.

“I do not want to be chair,” he stressed. “I do think it’s time for new ideas.”

Added LaGoy: “Hopefully we’ve stirred up enough noise that people want to take up these positions and help out.”

2 Comments

  1. Anne Marcy

    i know everyone loves their dogs but what they don’ t understand is that some people, like me, are afraid of dogs. I have been bitten 3 times. Naturally, I don’t want to see unleashed dogs on the trails. The owners always assure me that their dogs are friendly but it doesn’t help me. I am terrified of being bitten again. I walk all the trails regularly and would like to continue to do so without that fear.

    Reply
  2. Linda Chuss

    We concur completely, Anne Marcy. And to make it clear, you and people like you are what we are trying to address, including with the article at town meeting. Dogs ARE frightening or harming some people on trails and as a result, too many people aren’t using the trails. The current system doesn’t work well enough and enforcement is a big challenge.

    We proposed that some trails have NO dogs for people like you who don’t want to be around them (certain days or times). Enforcement could focus on those trails. To balance out the wishes of dog owners, some trails would allow dogs off leash (certain days or times) and you can easily avoid those trails in favor of the NO dog or all other (leashed dog) trails. Signs at the trails would advise everyone about the rules.

    For now, we plan to increase education and signage about the leash law and the reasons for it to try and help make trails safer for everyone. But we don’t think it’s enough and so we hope to bring the article back at next town meeting – we will aim to make it clearer that trying to designating some trails for NO dogs and some for off leash dogs will make it SAFER for people who fear dogs. And again, the article was to try out some experiments and see if they actually improve things before changing any leash laws.

    It’s unfortunate the reaction of some people who fear dogs seems to focus only on “off leash dogs are bad”, without seeing the set of changes that actually offer MORE protections for their safety. Maybe the message is too complicated and we’ll need to figure out how to better convey it. Other towns have used measures like this successfully and we think we can too. People who came to the dogs on trails forum seemed to get it and support it, including those who fear dogs and those who want their dogs off leash. In any case, talking more about it is part of the education aspect, and in and of itself may help lead to improvements.

    Reply

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