Stan Pollack: On keeping peace in ‘dog park’
NORTHAMPTON — The trails along the old state hospital side of the Mill River, aka “The Dog Park,” have been for many years a great area to let dogs be dogs. Of course, with any recreational site, there is always a possibility that people with differing opinions about the best use for the site will feel uncomfortable and even confrontational.
More than 12 years ago a group of more than 30 concerned citizens who frequented the area met several times to work out a way for all users of this area to coexist harmoniously.
Present were walkers, runners, horse riders, bikers and dog walkers. The result was commonsense rules that each person should follow. These rules were posted on the large bulletin board I secured and students from Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School installed at the parking lot off Burts Pit Road.
The rules for the State Hospital Multi-Use Area were to be enforced by the users of the site. We encouraged self-policing. If someone was not aware of or not following the rules, another person would politely inform them. If a person was not willing to cooperate, he or she could be banned from the area by way of a trespass notice.
The rules included controlling dogs, removing feces from the trail, not allowing dogs to run free in the parking lot and restraining and removing aggressive, threatening dogs from the area. They also included reporting threatening or disrespectful behavior or language of people, preventing destruction of property, not littering, staying away from the area when races were scheduled, reporting theft of agricultural products and prohibiting motorized vehicles from the trails.
As a frequent visitor to this area for the last 13 years, I have witnessed very few dogs who were aggressive and out of control. Less than 1 percent may have a temporary flare-up and need to be restrained or disciplined.
Should dogs be allowed to run off leash at this site? Absolutely. Should dog owners be in control of their dogs? Absolutely. Should dog owners who cannot control their dogs be asked to leash their dogs? Yes. Should dog owners whose dogs are aggressive and attack other dogs be held accountable and liable for the actions of their dogs? Yes indeed!
As a dog trainer, I agree with a Gazette letter-writer this fall who wrote, “If you can maintain complete verbal control over your dog when unleashed, that is fine, if you cannot, keep your dog on a leash.”
Controlling a dog is definitely the responsibility of the dog owner and if the dog owner is experiencing difficulty, he or she should seek the assistance of one of several dog trainers in the Valley.
The Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society offers reasonably priced dog training classes. Numerous private classes are available in Northampton and surrounding communities. Several dog trainers offer one-on-one dog training at dog owners’ homes.
The resources are available for all dog owners to become responsible community members by having good control of their dogs wherever they go.
Stan Pollack lives in Northampton.