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Frances Volkmann: Northampton needs to retain place where dogs can run



I was also saddened that her conclusion from her accident was that all of our dogs should be leashed, presumably at all times, in the area informally referred to as “the dog park” near Smith College and Village Hill. I was a regular runner in that area for 30 years (I am now a walker), and for many of those years was accompanied by a dog. It is a special place for people and dogs alike, a place to be enjoyed by all.

About 10 years or so ago, a group came forward urging that dogs be leashed at all times there; a meeting was held at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, attended by runners, dog people and city officials. An informal agreement was reached that there were special times when the area would be reserved for runners’ groups and school and college cross-country teams, and that the rest of the time dogs under the control of their owners could run and play there.

Having a place where dogs can run freely is critically important to the hundreds of us who share our lives with them. Many of our dogs come from herding or working stock. They are genetically programmed to need hard exercise — to run. When they can’t run they become stressed, sad, fat and sick. Our veterinarians’ offices are filled with them.

It is important to realize that the place of all of our domestic animals has changed dramatically just over the last few decades as we have become an increasingly urban, human-centered culture. Not so long ago, dogs were a part of most people’s lives. They were our workers, our protectors, our steadfast friends.

And the level of our understanding of our dogs’ needs and requirements, and how we should respond to them, was better than it is now. It has often struck me as ironic that some runners, who understand so well the importance of running for themselves, would not allow that need to be met readily for our dogs.

Here in Northampton, we have a situation where dogs must be leashed everywhere in town except in the area above where the informal agreement is in effect. Runners can go anywhere at all. Every park, road, sidewalk, bikepath and trail is available to us as runners. Dogs can run in only one area. And of course, runners are welcome there, too. They just need to understand that if they go there they will encounter free-running dogs, because that is the only place in town where the dogs can be off leash.

Perhaps it is also important to reiterate the behaviors on the part of both dog-owners and runners that make for a safe and happy experience for everyone. It goes without saying that dog owners need to be sure that their dogs will come when called and that they can snap on a leash rapidly when necessary. And runners need to learn to do three things if and when they are approached by a free-running dog.

First, stop running. A herding dog will not try to herd a stationary object. Second, drop your hands to your sides. Hands in pockets or raised are signals for many dogs that treats may be forthcoming. And finally, turn your back abruptly on a dog that starts to jump. By this time the dog’s owner should be there with the leash.

Over the years I’ve seen many things in my treks at the Smith/Village Hill area. I’ve seen some serious accidents when people tripped over rocks and roots; I’ve seen people annoyed and frightened by dogs who tried to herd them while they continued to run. I don’t happen to have seen a serious accident caused solely by a dog. Mostly what I’ve seen is the joyful play of people and dogs enjoying together an open and beautiful place.

Frances Volkmann lives in Northampton.


Catherine Phinney: An owner’s thoughts on why dogs run

Friday, October 18, 2013

To the editor: My dogs have taught me over the years that there are three reasons to run. 1. To race (easily won by creatures with four legs, if I would just let her go). 2. A game of tag well-known to all dogs, which ends with a wrestling match on the ground. (I have one middle-aged male friend who …

John Norton: Why can’t we all just get along when it comes to people and dogs?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

To the editor: Isn’t the former Northampton State Hospital land under the control of the commonwealth of Massachusetts agricultural department, not the city of Northampton? The current letter-writing campaign for a fenced and gated “dog park” seems to assume that the commonwealth will allow the construction of a specialty structure amid its multi-use policy for the land, flawed as it …

Dog park in Northampton would be win-win for all

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

To the editor: I would like to join the group of readers who are calling for a designated dog park in Northampton. I am a dog lover and owner but I do not want anyone to have to fear being accosted by either unfriendly or even overly friendly unleashed dogs on the trails. When I visit my daughter in Brooklyn …

Sarah Peters: City needs to address problem of dog encounters

Monday, October 21, 2013

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 …

Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas: Northampton must address problem of unleashed dogs; one runner’s story of injury

Friday, September 27, 2013

NORTHAMPTON — On Sept. 6 I went out for a run in the area of woods and meadows located between Smith College’s athletic fields and the Community Garden, on the south side of the Mill River. As I jogged a trail beside the river, an unleashed dog came bounding up the riverbank to greet me. I don’t know whether he …

Legacy Comments3

Sadly, Fran's assessment of the responsibility level of most dog owners at the Mill River area is not my own. I walked my dogs there for years and no longer go there because of the proliferation of dog owners there who are simply irresponsible, do not train their dogs and let their dogs jump all over any and everyone in the area, usually with them shouting in the background 'don't worry, he's friendly!' This dog owners are ruining this area for everyone, dog owners and runners alike. I had a HUGE ridgeback run full speed at me and yes, I turned and showed him my back and he jumped on me and hit me with his full 150 lbs or so full bore with both front legs on my back and bowled me over. All well the owners assured me he was friendly. I'm not embarrassed to say that I yelled at them. It would scare anyone to have a dog like that run and jump on them unrestrained and no one should have to endure that in any public space in town. I've had my smaller dogs attacked by larger dogs and was there once just after a particularly clueless dog owner let her dog run down to the Mill River during the spring flood where the dog was promptly swept up in the current and drowned. The Mill River area is not a 'dog paradise' as I've heard some people describe it, but a public place where people have the same responsibilities as others in public spaces. Dogs need to be under very well trained control, or they should be on leash, period. The majority of dogs in that area in my experience, are poorly trained and ignore their owners. I am frankly surprised that more people haven't been hurt there over the years. What Northampton really needs is a true dog park - one that allows dogs to play together in a large fenced area, and one that separates large from small dogs. Dogs could run and play there without jeopardizing others when their owners don't take the time to train them. If and when such a place is ever built, I will bring my dogs there. In the meantime, I've found other places my dogs can run that are not frequented by irresponsible dog owners. And I don't recommend that anyone go to that area either runner or dog owner if they value their own and their dog's safety.

Thank you, Frances Volkmann, for your rational assessment of the controversy. I feel the most important point you made is this: "Runners can go anywhere at all. Every park, road, sidewalk, bikepath and trail is available to us as runners. Dogs can run in only one area." Amen.

While it seems fair to have at least one property for dogs to run free within city limits, the cavalier attitude of many local dog owners needs to change. Dogs that chase, jump, nip or otherwise act aggressively toward people have absolutely no business being off-leash on publicly accessible properties. And--although as a dog owner/lover it pains me to say this--people should have the right to defend themselves with physical force against such dogs if need be. I also do not find the "but I own a working dog that acts this way and needs to run" argument persuasive in the least. We choose the breeds we own. Their needs are ours to provide for, and ours alone. If they are no longer in the element they were bred for, that is our fault. In addition, I would guess that 98% of the "working breed" dogs owned today are not trained to the rigorous standards that were developed in tandem with those breeds. If they were, I doubt there would be many problems having them off leash.

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