Dog owners, bike riders and parents of young children offered suggestions about how to improve conditions at Menotomy Rocks Park during off-leash hours at a public hearing at Town Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 4.

The park consists of more than 35 acres of woods, walking paths and fields and a three-acre pond, and is a popular place because of its size and natural beauty. It offers off-leash hours from 6 to 9 a.m., but some dog owners keep their dogs off-leash at other times, especially during after-work hours. Both sides offered impassioned arguments to allow the park to be used safely by everyone and to find ways to reduce conflicts between dog owners and others. The hearing was held by the Park and Recreation Commission.

Joseph Connelly, director of recreation, assured the crowd of nearly 100 people that the meeting was not to end off-leash hours but to find ways to make things better. “Off-leash hours are absolutely important for the quality of life,” he told the audience, but it is important that everyone can enjoy the park.

He said his office receives complaints about dog owners allowing dogs to run loose during times when they aren’t supposed to and that his own observations have shown the same thing.

Cyclist, mom with children 

"Hopefully, we can start with the premise that the 6-to-9 group works well and is fantastic, and I appreciate that," he said, "but there’s an element of people using the park with dogs when they’re not supposed to have them off-leash."

Two of the people who said the dogs are a problem were a man who rides his bicycle through the park and a woman who brings her young children to play. Both said their efforts to talk to the dog owners resulted in rudeness or disagreements. Still, a third park user said most of the incidents reported to authorities had little to do with dogs and more to do with teenagers who leave trash and build fires.

Mustafa Varoglu said he has stopped making complaints, "because I didn’t think anything would change."

He said he has been chased on his bike three times by the same dog, because the owner didn’t control the animal and will see dogs coming running out of the woods yet has no idea where the owner is. One time, he said, he almost hit a dog that came shooting out of the underbrush. When he told the owner he didn’t want to hit the dog, the owner yelled at him. Somehow, he said, “the dog is off-leash and in my way, but it’s my fault.”

Jen Stine, the mother of two small children, said she has stopped going to the park before noon, because her daughter has become afraid of dogs. When she asks someone to put their dog on a leash, Stine said, she has been treated rudely. "I will say, 'Could you move your dog off the playground?' and they will say no.'"

Even though she visits the park during off-leash hours, there are always dogs that are loose, she said. Stine said she hoped there could be a process in place to address people who are disobeying the rules.

Neighbor reviews police records

Charlie Foskett, who lives near the park, said a review of police records for nearly six years showed that complaints about animals stand at the rate of .013 percent per 10,000 dog walks and may be even lower, while problems involved with youth are 10 times that rate. Young people, he said, leave such debris as beer cans and bottles and set fires and vandalize the park.

Dog owners, he said, have actually improved Menotomy Rocks Park, by cleaning up trash. In addition, many dog owners have become members of the Friends of Menotomy Rocks Park and in that capacity have organized the tot lot facility, set up a free library, built bulletin boards, paid for weed and algae removal from the pond and helped remove invasive plants.

Most of the audience was made up of dog owners who said they use the park during off-leash hours and were eager to find ways to improve the situation.

Range of suggestions

They offered a range of suggestions that Connelly said the commission would discuss. These included:

* Better enforcement. The fine for having a dog off-leash when it is not allowed is $75. Martin Long told the commission to get serious about fines. "Ticket us," he said.

* Have a program in which dog owners would take their dogs to a trainer or the animal control officer who would determine whether a dog is able to behave properly off-leash and not lunge or attack people or other dogs and be able to listen to voice commands. A medallion would be issued to dogs that are under control so that others would know the dogs are safe.

* Improve signs so that people are well aware of the rules. Signs might include an email address so that people would know where to file complaints.

* Establish a fenced-in area.

* Impose hours in which no dogs are allowed so that people who are uncomfortable with dogs or fear them would know they have a time when they can use the park.

* Stagger off-leash hours at other parks around town.

Many in the audience wanted to know why the woods are off-limit to dogs, saying it was a perfect area for dogs to run and play. Connelly said there were concerns that dogs would then be out of sight and possibly out of voice control.

Connelly said the commission expects to weigh the information received at the Nov. 4 hearing and may hold a further hearing before making changes. He did not indicate a time frame.

This summary, by YourArlington writer Marjorie Howard, was published Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015.