Town Officials Looking at Ways to Tame Watertown’s Dog Park

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Charlie Breitrose

Dogs could soon have a place to play in East Watertown.

Dogs could soon have a place to play in East Watertown.

Charlie Breitrose

Dogs have a place to run off leash, but the Town Council plans to create an ordinance for dog parks, and find ways to make sure they don’t bother neighbors.

When Watertown opened its first dog park about two years ago, it was a dream for local dog owners, but a nightmare for residents living near the park.

The fenced in area was added to How Park, which sits near the Charles River on Pleasant Street at Bacon Street. Dogs flock there during daylight hours, which means that there is noise and people parking all over the neighborhood, sometimes on the sidewalk.

Tuesday night the Town Council’s Human Services subcommittee met to hash out a set of rules and ways to enforce them.

Neighbors have complained to the town, but gotten little help. Resident Ray Forte said the dog barking has become a constant part of his life since the dog park opened.

“It is obnoxious. It is non-stop,” Forte said. “It starts at six in the morning and lasts ’til 9 at night.”

Resident John Lazaro said he has tried to complain to Police, but after business hours he gets little or no response.

“There is no one there to enforce the rules,” he said. “I have not had dinner with out dog barking since it opened, or breakfast. They start at quarter to six in the morning.”

Animal Control Officer Karen O’Reilly said most people and dogs at the dog park behave well, but some have issues. There are rules, which are posted at the dog park, but she said that is not enough.

“Rules are rules, but I can’t write a citation on a rule,” O’Reilly said.

She added that she has seen some people at the dog park from Newton and Belmont, which have dog parks but charge a fee for a pass to get into their dog parks. Newton charges residents $50 annually and non-residents $100, O’Reilly said.

Other towns have rules against excessive barking and aggressive dogs, said Councilor Aaron Dushku.

The subcommittee asked O’Reilly and Kristel Bennett, the town’s Chief Environmental Health Officer, to write a draft ordinance covering the dog parks, and parks around town.

Some of the items Councilors Tony Palomba and Dushku asked that the ordinance include were:

  • a recommended fee for a dog park permit
  • a rule against excessive barking
  • a rule against aggressive dogs
  • a set of hours for the dog park
  • recommended fines for violating the ordinance
  • posting a signs listing all the rules

The subcommittee asked for the draft to be ready within a month’s time.

Other Parks

Councilor Angeline Kounelis noted that right now no dogs – except service dogs – are allowed in schools or public areas of Watertown. She also read a letter from a resident complaining about dogs being let off the leash at Filippello Park in areas where children are playing.

O’Reilly suggested allowing dogs in other parks if they are on leashes on paved surfaces.

How Park Issues

The subcommittee then looked at issues specifically regarding How Park.

Lazaro said people going to the dog park leave their cars all over the area, sometimes making Bacon Street too narrow for big vehicles, like fire trucks, to get through. Others park over the curb.

“I see people walking with their kids and they have to go in the street because cars are parked on the sidewalk,” Lazaro said.

Also, the dogs have to go through the rest of How Park, including the area where children play, to get to the park. During the winter a resident plows the snow to allow access to the dog park, said resident Barbara Ruskin.

In addition, the grass on the flat part of the dog park has worn down and when it rains it gets muddy.

Recreation Director Peter Centola said there are other changes that could be made to the park. He suggested moving the entrance to the dog park so people do not have to go through the rest of the park. Also, a surface could be installed to prevent the area turning into a mud pit. He also said he could work with the Public Works Department to improve parking and access for the area by widening the road.

The subcommittee passed a motion asking the Town Council to recommend that the Recreation Department, Public Works Department and Health Department meet to consider:

  • creating a new entrance to the dog park
  • move the fence in on Bacon Street
  • fix the sidewalk
  • make sure it is handicap accessible
  • put in a new surface on the worn out areas of the dog park
  • put in signs directing people to the new entrance to the dog park
  • add a new sign that lists all the rules of the dog park and include the phone number of the Animal Control officer

O’Reilly said they considered having an electronic entry gate to the dog park requiring a fob – an electronic key – that lets people in to the area.

“It is a great way to help with hours and with aggressive dogs. We could turn off the fob so they can’t get in,” O’Reilly said.

The quote the town received for the fob system was $16,000, O’Reilly said. Palomba said the system could be requested and the Council will see if it the town can find the money in the budget.

Centola said planning continues on building a second town-run dog park at Filippello Park near the Grove Street entrance. A public meeting will be held to discuss the design of the park, but the date has not yet been selected.

5 thoughts on “Town Officials Looking at Ways to Tame Watertown’s Dog Park

  1. One “solution” not mentioned is actually opening another one or two, as of now it’s the only off leash park, and the only place you can legally bring your dog in Watertown so it gets a lot of traffic.

    • Yes, good point. The town is looking at that. At the end of the story I mentioned that they are planning another dog park at Filippello Park. Not sure if there are thoughts about a third one.

  2. So, Watertown already has a second park, which opened about a year ago. It’s at the apartment complex to the east of the Watertown Ford repair center and across the street from Gore Place.

    A third park at Filipello would be fantastic. This is obviously something useful to residents given how many dogs frequent How Park and the apartment complex park.

    As for How Park, I have a few thoughts… 1) I’d like to see/hear evidence of the “non-stop” barking. I’m there two to four times a week for 30 minutes to two hours each time, and there is rarely any barking. I’d be willing to venture the owners are louder than the dogs.

    2) Parking on the sidewalk near How Park doesn’t seem to be any different from parking on the sidewalk in other areas of town. In my neighborhood, there are residents who routinely park on the sidewalk without repercussions. It’s annoying in the summer and frustrating/dangerous with winter snow.

    3) A field turf cover for the majority of the large, flat area of How Park would be amazing. I’d love to know if there is a local “friends” group or dog-owner association that could look into getting remnants from one of the large vendors following a large installation, such as a football field. There is always leftovers, so perhaps some could be donated. Perhaps local landscapers could also donate some time for the installation, especially if residents assisted.

    I’m sure How Park isn’t perfect, but it seems to be pretty darn good. Issues seem to be rare, most owners are attentive and the dogs seem to love it. Facilitating quality time with and for my dog is a service I’m glad Watertown is offering.

    • Thanks for being so positive about the park. I also think the park is great and though I don’t utilize it as much as I’d like, when I go there I am reminded how grateful I am we finally have a dog park in our town. I never see or hear dogs barking when I am there. They are also well behaved and simply running around or sniffing butts as dogs do. Everyone has been very nice that goes there with the exception of the idiot dog owner who is on their cell phone and doing everything but actually watching their dog. But unfortunately you get that at all dog parks. It’s unfortunate that the shallow complaints of a few could jeopardize a resource so many enjoy and quite honestly as a tax paying citizen of Watertown, I feel we deserve these parks. People like to complain about dogs but would never complain about kids laughing too hard or yelling on a town playground facility. It’s tough to be a dog owner in this day and age and too many crotchety folks have nothing better to do than nitpick and piss and moan.

      • Thanks for the support. I agree with you about a few complaints causing trouble for all the dog owners who are appreciative of and respectful toward the parks.

        Because of this, I decided to attend the town council meeting Tuesday night (Aug. 11) and speak in the public forum. Among my points to the councilors, I asked that evidence of repeated problems, specifically the nonstop barking, be presented before any decisions are made since my experiences at the park are not at all what was described in this article or the Watertown Tab.

        The response was tremendous! A high-ranking member of the Community Development & Planning staff and three councilors each thanked me for representing the positive perspective of the dog parks. I certainly feel they are aware of the pros and cons of the current park.

        I was also left with the impression they are planning great things for a potential dog park at the old recycling center (or another location). They are collecting feedback and gathering information, including visits and photos, from other towns. Overall, it was a very encouraging experience for dog owners in Watertown.

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