Boston Common area residents are using the new Boston Common Off-Leash Dog Area, and as for their four-legged friends it is a tail-wagging experience all around. In this specially designated area of America’s first public park, marked by signage, dogs are allowed to go off-leash. What makes this program unique is that it does not require a fence; it is the first area of its kind to be approved by the city. Kimberly Annon, Beacon Hill resident and member of a group The Common Canine, visits Boston Common daily with her dog “Eighty” and finds that she is part of a “regular” group that generally follows the same schedule. “We are glad to have a space to bring our dogs where they are not breaking the rules,” says Annon. “Stopping in this area at the same time every morning and seeing the same people and their dogs really builds a good sense of community,” she adds. The Friends, in collaboration with the Boston Parks and Recreation Department and dog owners from the community who formed into the Friends sub-group Common Canine, developed the plan that provides meaningful recreation for dogs on Boston Common, protects turf and plantings from overuse, and minimizes interference with other users’ quiet enjoyment of the park. Approved by the Parks Commission in 2013, the Program aims to engage dog owners as active stewards of the park, to establish and enforce clear rules and expectations around dogs in the park, and to create a long-term, sustainable mechanism for restoring and renewing those areas of the park that are used for dog recreation. Dog owners and The Common Canine group have plans to ramp up their involvement in upcoming community events to let other dog owners know about the area and how they can support it.
Since last year the Friends have been working with neighborhood organizations, the Parks Department and other interested parties to develop a plan that provides meaningful recreation for dogs in Boston Common, protects turf from overuse and that minimizes interference with other users’ quiet enjoyment of the park. Last week the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission approved a program that includes five rotating off-leash areas. Dog owners will serve as the stewards of the park by following and enforcing the rules regulating use of the space. Consistent with best practices in turf management, the designated space will be rotated to a new location every six-months, and dog owners will fund restoration of the previously used spaces.
Signs will be posted and trash cans added to the new off-leash sites. Park rangers can ticket pet owners for allowing their dog off-leash in non-designated areas or for not picking up after their pets.
“I know it’s a very challenging park to try to do this in, but it’s also a park many, many hundreds if not thousands of dog owners are using” Elizabeth Vizza, Executive Director of the Friends of the Public Garden, told the commission.
The sites range in size from 21,000 to 57,500 square feet. Three of the proposed sites are located near Beacon Street; two are near the Parkman Bandstand by Tremont Street.
While approving the plan, the commission raised concerns about enforcement of the rules and stipulated that it would review the success of the program six months after it begins.
“All of us are sympathetic to dogs wanting to run off-leash and have energy, and what not, but there is common courtesy, and the Common is for people without dogs as well,” said Susan Park, a Parks and Recreation commissioner.
“This is going to require the folks that have come to this agreement help us enforce it, and talk to dog owners and encourage dog owners to do the right thing,” Vizza said.
No date has been set for the program to begin.
Job One this fall will be to restore the turf below the Joy Street stairs that’s been used as a pilot dog recreation area. The Friends are currently working with the city to determine whether this restoration needs to be complete before the other spaces can be opened.
Job two falls in the hands of dog owners. A group of organizers called Common Canine also needs to raise money for signs, dog waste receptacles and other play perks for pooches, she said.
The Friends and Common Canine plan to operate the dog park between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and 9 p.m., eventually on five designated rotating spaces so that no one area gets beaten down by paw traffic.
The application for a rotating off leash area in the Boston Common is complete and is pending approval by the city. Dog owners and other community members who are advocating for the space comment on the importance of this development for the city of Boston and respond to some public concerns.
Allison Byrne says,
“There is no question the off-leash area will be a big boon for dog owners. The parks are for the people to use and enjoy. And it turns out that for city dwellers with dogs, a growing population, the way they want to enjoy the park is with their dog. Dogs and people are social and thrive in a group setting. Having a designated area where dog owners can congregate and allow their dogs to safely run around together is the goal. Dogs need to run on a daily basis to be emotionally and physically healthy, and the interactions they have with other dogs are helpful for socialization, similar to how children benefit from play groups. The same can be said of the dog owners!”
She believes the city will benefit from the program because it creates goodwill and a enhances a growing sense of community. The Boston Common is our common back yard and all city-dwellers should be able to use it to mutual benefit.
This of course leads to the question of proper care. There is concern that overuse of these areas will be detrimental to the grounds. That is why the space will be rotating. Rather than one designated off-leash area the plan is for dog owners to rotate use of separate spaces to allow the areas to be reseeded and restored between uses. These spaces will be well marked with signs, dog waste bag dispensers and trash bins. The dog owners have agreed to a sort of self governance which will include outreach and education to encourage all dog owners to obey the rules, and enables them to become active stewards of the park. Dog owners are also financially responsible for restoring the off-leash areas on a regular basis. The money for this upkeep will come both from private financial contributions and through public fundraising efforts.
If you have questions about the off-leash area please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Friends of the Public Gardenis working to put together a snap shot of how people utilize the Public Garden, Boston Common and Commonwealth Avenue Mall for their pets. Friends is asking dog owners to participate in the discussion by taking a brief survey regarding their use of the parks. Questions are designed to gauge how often dogs use each space and which spaces are used most often. Friends is also interested in hearing what dog owners have to say about an off-leash pilot program. The survey is available online at www.surveymonkey.com/s/KKSQFJ9.
For a printed copy,call the Friends at 617-723-8144.