Pooch park planned for Pittsfield

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PITTSFIELD — The city hopes that giving dogs their own space to roam free will mean fewer issues at other Pittsfield parks.

And the issue that's currently stinking up the mix: excrement.

"We welcome animals in our parks," said Jim McGrath, the city's parks and natural resource program manager. "We just need to make sure we're eliminating conflict."

The pressing problem exists in all city parks, McGrath said, but particularly at Kirvin Park, which features a sprawling series of open fields tucked against a wooded buffer off Williams Street. It's a popular haunt for residents to let their dogs run — despite regulations prohibiting such behavior in the city's parks.

And loose dogs tend to relieve themselves, well, wherever they like, much to the chagrin of other park users.

To help keep the peace, the city plans to launch a pilot dog park this spring using one of the fenced-in fields at the East Street Softball Complex. The park could also help serve as a guide for city employees planning a more formal dog park at Burbank Park.

"It could help us understand how the community might use a dog park," he told members of the Animal Control Commission, whose help he's seeking in the coming weeks.

Setting up the pilot will require "minimal investment," he added.

McGrath has asked commissioners to support City Hall as it embarks on an outreach campaign to promote responsible dog ownership, including by picking up after their pets and respecting leash laws when applicable.

"It certainly seems it's right in the wheelhouse of the Animal Control Commission," he said.

The plan is to post signage requiring dogs at the pilot park be vaccinated and appropriately licensed. Signs will also ask owners to exclude aggressive dogs, as well as female dogs in heat.

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"There are going to be some issues," Animal Control Officer Joe Chague said, but for the most part "they tend to police themselves."

Chague said dog owners tend to naturally weed out problematic dogs and owners.

"We'll handle it as we go," he said.

McGrath said it's been several years since the complex was contracted out for sporting events. If there is formal interest this year, he said there would still be two available fields.

The site is a former landfill, McGrath told commissioners, which makes it more complicated for anyone looking to dig below the soil's surface.

"This is at present not intended to be a permanent location," he said.

Meantime, the 2-acre dog park planned for Burbank Park on Onota Lake remains in the pipeline, he said. During a meeting last week, he showed commissioners an artist's rendering of the concept, which includes shade trees lining the property, play mounds and a drinking water fountain.

McGrath said the Stanton Foundation will contribute $225,000 for the project, estimated to cost $240,000, and the foundation will also grant ongoing capital funds for unforeseen needs in the years that follow the park's installation.

Formal design of the park will likely take place this summer, he said, and he's aiming for construction to begin in spring of next year.

As for Kirvin Park, there will be no change of rules, McGrath said. Dogs will continue to be allowed, but they must be on leash.

"All we're looking for is compliance," he said. "It's a special place. It's a special place for humans and their dogs."

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.


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