Complaint revives discussion of dog park options for Pittsfield


PITTSFIELD — A complaint about unleashed dogs in city parks has prompted Animal Control Commission members to consider a study of whether a dog park can be created in Pittsfield or special hours set when owners could walk unleashed dogs at specific sites.

During a meeting on Wednesday, member Thomas Sakshaug suggested the issue be placed on the commission's August meeting agenda, saying he would like a study committee to review the options and make a recommendation.

Resident Pamela Fleming, of Sampson Parkway, told commissioners she has become frustrated trying to find a city park or other location to walk her dog, which was seriously injured in the past and is easily upset when approached by unleashed dogs.

"I don't believe I am the only one in Pittsfield to have this concern," she said, adding that "some people are very good about putting their dogs on a leash, others are not."

Fleming said she would like to see the city create a dog park where those who insist on walking dogs without a leash could go.

The idea has been considered in the past, but a proposal for a dog facility in Springside Park, which apparently could have received grant funding, was dropped after strong opposition from the Springside Park Conservancy and other stakeholder groups in the park.

Sakshaug noted that "there are no off-leash hours in the city and all dogs must be leashed at all times." But he and other commissioners acknowledged that many owners continue to walk their dogs without leashes, often in city parks.

He recommended a study committee be formed with city Parks and Open Space Manager James McGrath and others to look at dog park options and at programs in other communities where unleashed dogs are allowed in parks during set hours.

One such program was established in Brookline and is known as the Green Dog Program. It requires owners to obtain a daily or annual permit and follow park rules to walk dogs without a leash.

McGrath said Thursday that "site location is obviously critical" to establishing a full-time dog park. Specific requirements would include a central location to be accessible and have utilities near the site, especially water service.

The Stanton Foundation had approved dog park design funding in 2013 and later apparently was prepared to fund construction of a park, but McGrath said the grant money was declined after Springside Park stakeholders were "loud and clear" they did not see a proposed site there as an acceptable use in that park.

"We also have been investigating other models," he said, such as off-leash times in certain parks.

A major concern in any program, McGrath added, would be the need to maintain the park. He said city crews are currently stretched to keep up with maintenance requirements, especially in light of expected tight city budgets for at least the near future.

He added that his own schedule is tight because of a number of ongoing projects, and he would hope for someone else "to take the lead" in overseeing a committee study of dog park options.

The need for such a facility has been shown, McGrath said, adding, "There a lot of parks in Pittsfield and a lot of dogs in the city."

But the city "needs to come up with some creative solutions," he said.

During the commission meeting, Chairman John Reynolds and Kevin Morandi, the Ward 2 city councilor, advised residents to contact the city animal control officer when they see dogs off-leash. When more than one complaint is received on a specific dog, that makes it easier for the officer to take action, they said.

Reynolds said that whenever the commission deals with a dog complaint, it invariably involves a dog owner that hasn't followed the city's leash law.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.


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