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Possible Dog Ban Has Residents Nervous

Public forum on June 8 will discuss motion to ban dogs from parks and playgrounds

Complaints of misbehaving dogs in public spaces have grown to a point that the Town of Needham is considering a canine ban in public spaces. Residents like Bill Paulson, though, are hoping that if pet owners better obey the rules in town, a ban can be avoided.

A month ago, Town Manager Kate Fitzpatrick appeared before the Board of Selectmen to state that officials would begin to reexamine pet laws in the hopes of streamlining them.

"We want to facilitate town-wide regulations. We continue to see a significant amount of pets off leash in parks and there seems to be confusion over enforcement," she said at the time.

Parks in town already ask pet owners to keep dogs on a leash at all times. More specifically, parks with artificial turf like DeFazio and Memorial ask that dogs be kept off of the playing fields.

Fitzpatrick has related, though, that pets are routinely seen walking around without a leash and that owners are not picking up after dogs' waste. On April 21, she moved that the Town adopt a temporary measure to ban dogs from DeFazio and Memorial entirely. A second stage is also being considered, one that would call for a ban at all fields and playgrounds in the community.

"I think for Town officials, it's a general nuisance issue and they got enough calls (at this point) to facilitate a possible ban," said Paulson, a resident who is so impassioned by canine prohibition that he created a Facebook group, "Needham Dog Lovers," to show the solidarity among dog owners in town. As of May 24, the group already has 115 members.

Paulson stressed that simply banning dogs altogether is a simple solution to a complicated issue. Not only do dog owners derive pleasure out of taking their pets to a public park, he said, but such an activity is beneficial to a dog's quality of life.

"You're not calling for a dog ban in the entire town; people are allowed to own dogs in Needham," Paulson said. "So if you're going to allow people to have dogs, there are certain things that need to come with that, like letting them exercise and get outdoors."

Fitzpatrick stresses that banning dogs is simply one measure of streamlining laws and one that is likely to be amended should other options come to the forefront.

"We have not had too much feedback, but what we've had has mainly been centered around pets at ballgames and pets that are in places within the community that are walkable," Fitzpatrick told Needham Patch when asked if many complaints have come in since her memo was originally issued.

However, barring dogs from parks and playgrounds is simply one item that Fitzpatrick and other officials are looking at. Another large part of the current debate relates to dog waste and regulating owners as far as its removal. While other towns have the so-called "Pooper Scooper Law," in which pet owners are charged with cleaning up after their pets, Needham is only now looking to create its own law.

"There is no law right now," Fitzpatrick said. "We are recommending that there be one."

On June 8, the general public is invited to 500 Dedham Ave. for a meeting on the issue of dogs in town. The dog waste law and a possible ban on dogs at parks and playgrounds will be on the docket.

"I would love people to come to this forum," said Paulson, who argues that most pet owners in town obey the leash laws and pick up after their dogs. "There are a substantial amount of dog owners who do the right thing, probably 80 percent, but we need to get it to the point where we raise awareness and get the level to 90 percent."

Paulson outlined several ways to be a more responsible pet owner in a letter to Needham Patch. Among these items is bringing an extra bag along and picking up the waste that a neighbor may have left behind.

"I know…the thought of picking up some other dog's poop isn't very appealing.  However, the alternative is that our dogs may get flat out prohibited from most of the town's green spaces," he wrote last week.

Another measure Paulson would like pet owners to take is to be vocal. He says that if a dog is seen without a leash in a public space, the pet owner in question should kindly be approached and asked to obey the rules. Voicing concerns at the June 8 meeting is another way to be proactive, he explains.

"The easy answer is to close it all down, but it's not the right answer," he told Needham Patch. "We need to give dogs and their owners space for what they need to do."

No matter the outcome of the issue, Fitzpatrick is confident that if residents show up for the meeting and provide good ideas, the right solutions will be found.

"The Town government is set up so that the vast majority of the things we do are open to public feedback," she said. "Often times, items are tweaked at meetings like this."

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