Land Bank bans dogs from goat grazing areas

The herd had been attacked multiple times while removing invasive species.

The Martha's Vineyard Land Bank enacted a policy against uncontrolled dogs to protect its goat herd. —Eunki Seonwoo

The Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission unanimously approved a new policy banning dogs in areas where the organization’s goats graze. 

According to a staff memorandum, there have been two separate incidents when a “loose and uncontrolled” dog leaped into a fenced-in area where goats were grazing. The attacks occurred at Sweetened Water Preserve in Edgartown and Tisbury Meadow Preserve. Eight goats suffered “visible bite wounds” as a result, requiring veterinary care. 

In both instances, the dogs were unleashed and the owners were present, and then left the grazing areas without calling an animal control officer or notifying Land Bank staff. The dog owners were found with the help of animal control officers to confirm the dogs were vaccinated for rabies. 

During a Monday meeting, Land Bank goatherd Zachary Jesse said while the dog owners were found, neither offered to cover veterinary bills. Land Bank executive director James Lengyel said staff plans to ask for reimbursements from the owners. 

Staff recommended that signs be put up prohibiting dogs from the immediate goat-grazing areas when the activity is taking place. Notifications would also be posted online on the Land Bank website and social media. 

“It is our understanding that the town [animal control officers] will recommend a dog be put down as a nuisance animal if that dog kills livestock,” the memorandum reads. “The staff believes the change in the dog policy during grazing times will reduce the chance of further conflicts between dogs and the goat herd that could end poorly for both parties.”

If the signage does not work, the Land Bank would consider prohibiting dogs from the entirety of a property when the herd was grazing on it.

The Land Bank’s goat program began in 2015, and the herd replaced mechanical mowing during the summer. The goats chow down at various Land Bank properties on a rotational basis, munching away unwanted or invasive plants. 

When commissioners asked about the goats’ well-being, Jesse said most of them sustained minor injuries, although a couple of the goats were more severely injured. Jesse said the goats were recovering. 

Oak Bluffs commissioner Kristen Reimann asked for more details about the plan, and Jesse clarified that how much of an area is closed off to dogs would depend on the Land Bank property the goats were grazing on. Jesse pointed to the nine-acre Chilmark Pond Preserve as an example of where an entire property could be shut down. 

“We would have to just shut that one down,” Jesse said. “There’s not enough space.”

Signage was already in use at Land Bank properties telling dog owners to have their animals leashed near goat-grazing areas, according to Jesse. 

Commission vice chair and commonwealth representative Wesley Mott said he was “disgusted” by the incidents. He later asked whether an introductory sign would be placed to let dog owners know about the leash requirement, expressing concern that a loose dog could come into the restricted area and cause damage. 

“Too many dog owners, I think, have the principle of, ‘My dog is constantly under voice control,’ and we all know that’s a myth,” Mott said. “It’s a total misconception and self-deception for dog owners.” 

Jesse said the plan is to have a “decent-size buffer” between the restricted area and where signage begins, and where the herd is grazing. 

When Mott asked whether dogs have attacked the herd before, Jesse said he has had to fend them off before, and then tell owners to leash dogs or go elsewhere. “There’s been a few times I’ve been there and been able to prevent anything from happening,” Jesse said.

Commission secretary-treasurer and Tisbury representative Nancy Weaver pointed out that Tisbury Meadow Preserve already has a year-round leashed dog requirement. “It’s not working,” she said. 

Lengyel said animal control officers would need to be consulted to determine what can be done about repeat offenders. 

Commission chair and Chilmark representative Pamela Goff, who is also a farmer, asked if having a firearm would be a consideration, admitting the option was potentially “extreme” for the Land Bank. She pointed out that people have a right to defend their livestock under the law. 

“I’ve had dog problems sometimes,” she said. “I don’t have what it takes to shoot, but would you consider keeping a shotgun in your truck if you had to intercept a dog?”

“I don’t think that would be necessary for what we have to do,” Jesse said, adding that animal control officers have also told him about this right. “We’re going to do everything in our power so that does not happen.”

The commission unanimously approved using signs telling people “dogs prohibited beyond this point,” wherever that may be, on a Land Bank property when goats are grazing.


  1. Is it finally time for a Land Bank policy requiring dogs be leashed when on this public property? I’ve been terrorized by unleashed dogs while walking on landbank properties when owners are present. Enough already. Please do the right thing.

  2. I wish I were more surprised by the arrogance and ignorance of some dog owners, but I’m not. I’ve also seen firsthand — many times — that “All dogs must be leashed” has zero effect on some people. My dog and I walk regularly at several Land Bank properties, including Tisbury Meadow. He is *always* leashed — he’s a malamute: need I say more? Sometimes unleashed small dogs charge at him, while the owner (at some distance) calls out “He’s friendly!” I don’t care if he’s friendly: my dog thinks he’s under attack, and since he’s on leash he can’t do much about it. I haven’t been to Tisbury Meadow since the signs went up, so I don’t know if they’re going to affect our usual route, which takes us within sight of the goats. I hope they don’t, but I’ll understand if they do.

  3. As dog owners with a dog reactive dog always walked on a leash (now deceased) we have experience hiking multiple land bank properties with dog owners letting dogs run free and NOT under voice control.
    I highly recommend that all dogs be required to be leashed on all land bank properties and that the land bank take monitoring this issue as seriously as they take supervising beach and pond access properties. Those of us who must walk their dogs on a leash are pretty tired of people shouting “my dog is friendly” as the dog runs up on our dog, leashed and under control.

  4. Agreed. I used to walk all over this Island and eventually gave up due to being accosted by dogs off their leashes and definitely not under voice control if their owners. My walks were for exercise and de-stressing but too often turned into stressful events like being bitten, to coming face to face with a pack of dogs with their owners no where in sight.

  5. That is so awful on so many fronts. The poor goats, but also the extraordinarily lame move not to offer to cover veterinary care is so wild to me. First, leash your dog unless you are 100% sure that you DO have full voice control, and if your unleashed dog injures any one or any animal, you need to be responsible and step up. Just unreal that this is happening in so many ways these days.

  6. Ebba- every land bank property has a sign at the entrance that requires dogs to be leashed. Don’t blame the landbank. Speak up and tell irresponsible dog owners to leash them.

    • Dear Don, wish that were true, but for most of their properties the Land Bank has an “under control” requirement only, not requiring leashing. That doesn’t work. Dogs in public places need to be on leash. I’ve attended meetings urging the Land Bank to change their policy and the dog lovers on the committee would not budge.

  7. Put a livestock guardian dog in with the goats. It will take care of any dog that gets near its goats.

  8. The Land Bank has the law on their side. Take these people to court. Irresponsible owners should be made to pay. The suggestion of a Livestock Guardian Dog has merit.

  9. I have both dogs and goats. They happily live together without issue. I know this is not the norm. People who are ignorant or just don’t care need to be taught the rules. The owner responsible for the dog/dogs that attacked the goats HAS to pay the vet bills at the very least. If there are no REAL consequences they will continue to disregard the law/rules. There must be recompense on one way or the other. If you get in people’s pocket book, they tend to pay better attention to the rules and their dogs behavior. I would say vet bills AND a fine. If it continues and the same owner/dog continues to break the rules/laws and another attack occurs , then that will call for much much stronger penalties. What those are will be up to the Land Bank and the citizens that it may impact. Personally, I have access to 30 acres for my goats to graze. When they are out on this property, I have the means to protect them. Unfortunately in the area I live there are many unleashed and stray dogs running around all the time. Fortunately, I have only had to act in their defense twice. In all actuality, leash laws are to protect YOUR DOG. If he were to attack my goats, you would not have a dog anymore. I hate the fact that I may have to remove a menace to my goats because of your stupidity. PLEASE PLEASE protect your dog.

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