Keep your dogs leashed on public trails

Walking a dog on the Land Bank's Tiasquam Valley property. — Nancy Tutko

With recent increased use of Martha’s Vineyard public walking trails and beaches as a respite from COVID-19 confinement, keeping dogs leashed has become an important safety issue across the Island landscape, according to a press release from the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation.

More people and dogs on the trails mean more encounters among them, at a time when physical distancing is an essential safeguard against the virus. Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, which allows leashed dogs at its 22 Island sanctuaries, is among those groups who have noticed dogs off the leash, and often away from their owners.

“Dogs are among our favorite walking companions, and it’s great that there are so many places open to them on Martha’s Vineyard,” said Adam Moore, executive director of Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation. “But with the serious health concerns of coronavirus, we hope dog owners will understand that keeping their dog leashed helps make the trails safer for everyone.”

Some protected properties, such as Polly Hill Arboretum and Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, are always off-limits to dogs. Others have strict year-round, leash-only rules. The timing of coronavirus with the start of shorebird nesting season makes it doubly challenging for the Island’s conservation property managers, the release says. Piping plovers, terns, skimmers, and oystercatchers arrive in the late spring and early summer to hatch and raise chicks, which are vulnerable to disturbances by dogs and other animals.

“Felix Neck is a no-dogs property due to the sensitive wildlife habitat here,” said Suzan Bellincampi, director of Mass Audubon’s Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown. “And it’s good for everyone to remember that it’s now shorebird-nesting season. Unleashed dogs can stress the birds, and reduce nesting success, along much of the Martha’s Vineyard shoreline.”

Unleashed dogs, some of which are more exuberant and energetic than others, can also stress the humans they encounter on the trails. For the safety and security of everyone enjoying all the incredible natural beauty that Martha’s Vineyard has to offer, the release says, please keep dogs leashed when out walking or running on the trails and beaches, and encourage others to do the same.

For more information about the Island’s 200-plus miles of walking, running, and biking trails, visit