Sarah Peters: City needs to address problem of dog encounters
NORTHAMPTON — I have been following the discussion and debate about the “dog park” and leash laws in Northampton with much interest. When I moved to Northampton six years ago I was an avid runner, and the paths along either side of the Mill River were obvious destinations.
Unfortunately, within weeks of my arrival I experienced countless uncomfortable encounters with unleashed dogs and I stopped running on those paths altogether. During the final encounter on the Smith College side of the river, a small dog knocked me off my feet and left me with bruises as it uncontrollably chased another dog out of the woods.
After I dusted off and limped along the trail, I asked the next person I encountered several minutes later if the dog was hers. The dog returned to her while we were talking. She reported that her dog would “never” run through the woods at top speed. Dismissive responses such as those have been very common as I have occasionally ventured back to walk the paths since that time and have encountered dogs without people anywhere nearby.
Flash forward to a recent weekend: To avoid the chaos of either side of the Mill River and to get into a wooded area, my partner and I leashed up her dog and started a walk at the Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area, parking on North Farms Road. Within a minute of our arrival, a rambunctious unleashed dog ran away from its large group of people and bolted to our dog.
Nobody in the group called to the dog or commented to us about its behavior, and the dog left us on its own accord. Our dog was so agitated thereafter that we could not continue our walk in the same vicinity as that group, and we left the area. To salvage our plan for a walk, we drove to the Cooke Avenue entrance of Fitzgerald and walked the path to the lake. Our dog had settled, and the three other unleashed dogs we encountered stayed far enough away from her that she did not become agitated again.
We encountered the original large group of people with the rambunctious unleashed dog a second time and called out to them to please leash their dog. Thankfully they heeded our request, though not one person commented about their behavior or that of their dog.
I fear that a lack of regulation of the leash law in the city is creating an unhealthy culture of fear, anger and resentment among those of us that use the few wooded spaces in the city. Knowing the leash law is not enforced along the Mill River, I have changed my behavior to avoid that area unless I am willing to knowingly enter into an unpredictable situation with dogs and their people. I have resigned myself to find other spaces to enjoy in the city, and I worry that those options are shrinking.
Ignoring the problem or just leaving things the way they are is not safe or fair. Why can this issue not be addressed in a forum more decisive than our letters to the editor?
Sarah Peters lives in Northampton.