Lenox selectman: 'We're going to have a dog park, it's just a matter of where'

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LENOX — Despite a series of frustrating setbacks, proponents of an in-town dog park are pressing their efforts to find a suitable location for their animal companions to romp, socialize and enjoy a place of their own.

The most recent proposed site off Routes 7 & 20 in an unused corner of Kennedy Park failed to pass muster with the Conservation Commission for environmental reasons, specifically the Jefferson salamander habitat.

Now, several potential new locations near the center of town are being eyed by Selectman Kenneth Fowler and an informal committee of two-legged canine companions.

As a possible town project in the open space and recreation category, there's a potential for seed money through the Community Preservation Committee, he said.

"I have a very favorable consensus from the Select Board," said Fowler, whose dogs are Frankie and Leroy. "We're going to have a dog park; it's just a matter of where."

His volunteer committee members view a canine site not only as a gathering place but as part of an effort to make the town's tourism sector more welcoming for visitors "who travel with dogs who have become their family members," he said. "The dogs aren't just left at home anymore."

"I've been trying to have a dog park for six years," he said, "but if it was simply about a dog park, I would have given up a long time ago. My goal here is much larger; it's `pet-friendly Lenox.' "

Specifically, Fowler advocated consideration by inns, bed-and-breakfasts, and motels to "create a dog time of year," but without a dog park, the concept wouldn't work.

"If we can tie in a dog park to people traveling with their animals, we could start bringing people in who might not come to Lenox otherwise," he said.

As an example, the Colony Hotel in Kennebunkport, Maine, normally reserves time in October for a "Dog Lovers Weekend," though not this year. "They go into the pool and into the restaurant," Fowler said.

But the local advocates also emphasize the attraction for residents of Lenox and neighboring communities. "This has a lot of economic upside to it," Fowler said.

At last count, there were 456 licensed and registered dogs in Lenox, according to Town Clerk Kerry Sullivan.

Ariel Collins, a downtown Lenox resident whose dog is named "GB" ("Good Boy"), pointed out that she doesn't have a yard, "so I just walk my dog around town all the time. So a park would be great for me and it would socialize my dog, he could play with other dogs."

"Our dogs, when they socialize, have so much fun together," Carolyn Vanderhort agreed, representing her dog, Coco.

Having relocated with her Ringo to a downtown apartment in Lenox from a home Pittsfield, Brigette Fowler-Cornwell said "just like people, dogs need to interact, it's good for their mental health and it teaches them how to behave in certain situations."

"We don't have a yard right now and there's nowhere for these animals to be off-leash," she said. "Having a place would alleviate some of Kennedy Park's issues. I see that as a great benefit, because a lot of people walk their dogs off-leash there and not all of them know how to behave, because they're not restrained. The way they behave in a controlled area is much different from an uncontrolled area."

"The problem with Kennedy Park is that it's mixed-use," Kenneth Fowler said. "A dog park is specific; you don't have joggers, strollers, bikes, horses, all that other stuff going on that can stress a dog. The dog park addresses that problem."

Vera Lecocq said although she has a yard, her dog Cocoa "loves coming into town, running into everyone else's dog."

"My dog Lucy is very social," said Keelin Hodgkins, "so I make a point to do the walk in town so she can see everybody. Our dogs know all the other dogs, they get excited when they see them."

She also pinpoints dog-friendly accommodations when traveling, citing a recent visit to Bar Harbor, Maine, where she found welcoming guest cottages and restaurants, as well as a dog park.

"People who come to the Berkshires would stay in Lenox rather than Great Barrington, for example, if they knew all these things were available for their dog," Hodgkins said.

"My dog Quincy really wants to interact with other dogs," said Anna Shippee. "I would love the social component."

The next step is to find a piece of land and prepare a presentation for the Community Preservation Committee this fall to pursue potential seed money, and to formalize a committee for regular meetings to push the project, said Selectman Fowler, "to impress upon the decision-makers that this is something we want, we feel there's a great need for it, and it has a greater goal than just for people who own dogs."

"Once we get the town leaders to begin to push on this, besides myself, I think then it will happen," he said. "I'm positive, I know it's going to happen, I have no doubt in my mind, otherwise I wouldn't get involved."

Reach correspondent Clarence Fanto at cfanto@yahoo.com or 413-637-2551.


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