To the Editor:
There is no better way to start the New Year than with a walk on a favorite trail, enjoying the peace and tranquility of a winter-quiet Island. That is what my 82-year-old mother and I intended at Fulling Mill Brook until loose dogs caused us to abandon our plan. Not far along the trail from South Road, we met up with a family — parents and two small children, with a leashed dog. We stopped to thank them for having the dog on a leash, explaining how both my mother and I have often been menaced, jumped on, and nearly knocked down by loose dogs whose owners were 100 yards or more away, calling out, “It’s OK, he’s friendly!” This family then warned us of their experience, moments before. Two chow chow–type dogs came out of nowhere and chased them aggressively down the trail for a good distance before the dogs trailed back off to wherever the owners might be. The family still seemed shaken when we saw them. It is outrageous to me that this family’s nice outing was ruined by such an episode. Of course, my mother and I decided we couldn’t walk there — she is not quite nimble enough to sprint down a wooded, root-covered path.
I ask all dog owners who allow their dogs off leash on trails and beaches to consider the following:
- Some people are afraid/terrified of dogs. I have a friend who has been bitten three times by loose dogs. Another friend, 85 years old, was knocked down by a loose dog at Lucy Vincent. These are not isolated incidents.
- We all share these public spaces, and those private lands to which we have access. Think about how your dog running loose negatively impacts others’ enjoyment of nature. My quiet communion with nature does not impact your experience, but your loose dog profoundly impacts mine. Many of these trails have a leash law, or a rule that dogs must be under voice command. If your dog is off-leash, it should remain within sight so you can call it back before your dog can rush at, jump on, bite or chase people, children, or wildlife. Those rules protect everyone’s right to enjoy these trails.
- Loose dogs impact wildlife and hunters. While there exist important seasonal protections for our endangered shorebirds, we are fortunate here to view all types of wildlife year-round — otter, deer, muskrat, northern harrier, snowy and barn owl, and occasionally, seals on our beaches. I have been watching shorebirds along our coastal pond shores through binoculars when a loose dog comes charging into my field of view, scattering every shorebird within a half-mile. A hunter may be up in a tree stand, having worked for weeks to set up for taking a doe or a buck to feed a family for a year, only to have a loose dog chase deer and move them from the area. In the winter, seals often haul out on our beaches to rest, warm up, and conserve energy; being able to do this is critical to the animal’s survival. A loose dog chasing it back into the water puts these marine mammals at risk. Further, seals are a federally protected species — both people and dogs are supposed to maintain a distance of 150 feet from them.
- People who have their dog leashed do so for good reason — their dog isn’t well socialized, or is a puppy not yet ready to interact with other dogs. Responsibly, they use the leash to maintain control over their dogs. Their leashed dogs would be safe and harmless to others if all dog owners maintained control over their dogs.
- Clean up after your dogs and take it with you. Do not put dog poop in a blue plastic bag and leave it on the trail, hanging in the bushes, or at the trailhead.
- Walking your dogs in cemeteries to poop and pee among our families’ gravestones is not OK. Don’t do it.
- Farmers and livestock owners have the legal right to shoot/kill your dog if it is chasing, worrying, or attacking their animals (Massachusetts General Law Ch. 140, Section 156). Be aware, and leash your dog when walking in/near areas where livestock is kept.
- At the very least, carry leashes with you, and be prepared to get your dog on a leash and under control when you meet other people.