In 2006, BostonDOG was formed to promote conscientious and responsible dog ownership. Protecting the collective needs and desires of dog owners and non-dog owners is just one of the organization’s goals. The group’s current focus is on establishing dog recreation spaces in the Boston Common and the Charles River Esplanade.
BostonDOG’s inception coincided with the erection of a fence put up at the start of a much needed and desired restoration of the Boston Common. In order to restore an area of the Parade Ground turf, a section of the Boston Common, Boston Parks Department installed a fence. Almost overnight dog owners accustomed to exercising, socializing and enjoying the beauty and serenity of the park with their pooches, were locked out.
J. Alain Ferry, Founder of BostonDOG and Boston Petpal: I remember seeing the fence and taking in the irony of it. Boston dog owners have always wanted a designated fenced in area for our dogs. Not all dogs respond to voice commands … actually that applies to people as well. A fenced area would allow our dogs to interact without interfering with other park activities. The Common has 2 baseball fields, 2 tennis courts and an open field for soccer, rugby and Frisbee. There’s also a seasonal ice-skating rink, a children’s playground with safety play surfacing, a water play spray fountain as well as walking trails. And with the Boston Common being almost 50, acres there’s still plenty of room to include dog owners and their pets.
The official word in the past has been: “there will never be a fenced off area for dogs on the Boston Common”. Then suddenly here’s a fence keeping us out. It gave me the idea of putting a flyer together that read: “They won’t let us put a fence to keep our dogs in but they will put up one to keep our dogs out.” From midnight until 5am I rode around the city placing flyers in every high traffic neighborhood.
There are always two sides to an issue. This is true of the situation with dogs and the possibility of a permanent space within the Common. Toni Pollak, Boston Parks Commissioner has stated the following: “Boston dogs and their owners bring a wonderful liveliness and camaraderie to the Common each day, but also have serious impact on the turf and issues concerning dog waste and noise. It is the city’s hope dog owners using the Common, America’s oldest park, will work with the Boston Parks and Recreation Department to help us manage these impacts.”
BostonDog.org has responded in several meaningful ways. First, they have an online petition and a developing website to increase communication with all parties. Second, they recognize that errant dog owners exist and that something needs to be done to educate them. Every month, BostonDOG is in action performing poop patrol in the streets and parks of Beacon Hill and Back Bay areas. Four Preppy Paws, a well-known dog boutique on Charles Street, provides a meet-up point for tailgate patrolling. Pizza and drinks are enjoyed pre-patrol, and then on to the business they go. Sporting bright orange t-shirts and using recycled grocery bags, members pick up after delinquent dog owners.
Recently WOOF Patrol tagged along and picked up poop alongside fellow volunteers. We found our share of dog mess. There’s no getting around that fact that it’s nasty business. But the other side of the story is the Pawsitive Social Impact that comes into being by a simple act of kindness. Folks in those hoods stopped us on almost every block.
Alain had picked the primetime patrol hour as 6 to 7pm when dog and non-dog owners were sure to be out walking. BostonDOG’s bright orange t-shirts captured glances but what started conversation was taking care of the business. People wanted to know why we were picking up poop. Both constituents’ interests were peaked in the poop pickup. Dog owners that picked up after their dog took pride in their responsible dog etiquette. Non-dog owners saw another side of the story: most dog owners do pick up; some even pick up for others.
J. Alain Ferry: Awareness and education is important for creating harmony between dog owners and non-dog-owners. We’re making people realize that it really matters if you don’t pick up. By not, you’re creating a wide spread problem for ALL dog owners. Most people do clean up after their pets but when people see poop they classify it not to one particular person but to everyone that owns a dog.
Frank Washburn, BostonDog volunteer: We patrol because it's polite, considerate and the right thing to do. Many dog owners took in our efforts by telling us they’d carry extra bags because sometimes you forget and then what.
Public recreational areas around the country are becoming increasingly dog friendly. Dog owners not only appreciate the opportunity to spend more quality time with their pets but they also provide substantial community benefits. Running with the pack has led to a reduction in crime in many neighborhoods. In Laurel Canyon located in Los Angeles, an ad hoc dog park drove out drug dealers and other less desirable users from a park that most community members no longer felt safe going to. The Laurel Canyon dog owners did a great job of returning the park to the people.
“Dogs especially facilitate friendly interactions among people, as they so actively solicit play and offer greetings … establishing a dog park creates a community center of activity where friends and neighbors gather to relax … users of dog parks are self-policing so as to maintain the appealing environment .… Creating dog parks is a method for more efficiently educating dog owners and facilitating them in assuring excellent behavior with their dogs.” … Dr. Lynette Hart, director of UC Davis’ Center for Animals in Society.
WOOF Patrol contacted Michael P. Ross, Boston City Councilor (District 8): What do you feel would be the greatest benefit of having the Boston Common being more inclusive and inviting towards dog owners?
Councilor Ross: The establishment of a real dog park. Initially, I'm not sure I would have answered this question the same way, but after traveling to New York City with City Councilors LaMattina and Linehan and with other Bostonians, I've come to realize that this is exactly what is needed. One park we saw in New York, called Madison Square Park, the dog park was wildly successful, and the park was significantly smaller than the Boston Common. If they could find room, so can we.
WP: What is the best advice that you can provide to BostonDog volunteers to reach their goals in establishing a permanent dog recreation area in the Boston Common?
Councilor Ross: Remain organized. Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed dog owners can change their world.
The RoDogRun.org is another group of community-minded dog owners located in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Their website lists 5 reasons why to have a dog park: 1. Reduction of Crime, 2. Training, Preventing, or Removal of Aggressive Dogs, 3. Reduction of Dog Waste, 4. Foster Neighborhood Unity and Camaraderie and 5. Happier and Healthier Dogs. This group’s efforts garnered them a $10,000 Small Changes Grant from the city. They still have much more to raise but Boston dog owners are passionate and committed towards the future of dog-friendly public recreational areas.
If you support a dog run in the Boston Common take a minute to email Councilor Ross: email@example.com
The most basic reason to include to dogs in public recreational areas is that a socialized dog is less likely to be aggressive. The exercise that takes place in a dog run can produce a calming effect that’s similar to when we exercise. Increased levels of serotonin coming from healthy workout in the park can provide Fido with a calm and more relaxed personality. Less bark and more park can be a win-win for everyone, if those holding the leash do so with conscientiousness and respect for others.
Dr. Nicholas H. Dodman, BVMS, is the Head of the Behavior Program at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine outside of Boston. He’s an international expert in domestic-animal research. He also has a veterinary practice of animal psychology. Dr. Dodman is the author of 7 books, the latest titled, The Well-Adjusted Dog.
Dr. Dodman: Most dogs are born to run. Exercise is a natural and necessary part of the canine agenda. The need for canine aerobic exercise - what the gym folks call cardiovascular exercise - is something Dr. Dodman can’t emphasis enough to pet owners. As he states in his book:
“Aerobic exercise increases oxygen consumption and makes the heart beat stronger and faster. It is exercise that causes dogs to pant and tires them out. It is usually only possible to achieve this level of exercise with a dog off leash — unless you use a treadmill.”
Dr. Dodman has written several letters to local authorities explaining that dogs really need the opportunity to run free. On the Tufts campus there’s an area that dog owners take their dogs to run off-leash. “It’s wonderful to watch,” says Dodman. He’s not sure if he’s able to make a difference with those making the decisions for off-leash dog recreational areas but his research makes the case for both the benefit and need to have them.
Alain: Our vision is to help create and maintain successful dog recreation spaces that benefit our entire community.
BostonDOG has the right goals for success, but they’ll need more dog owners to speak up. Fido and Rover can’t sign a petition or head into a City Hall meeting but their owners can and should.
Alain: The quickest way to get community action is to take something away from them. This happened to all dog owners in Boston. We woke up one morning to a fence and our dogs had no place to go. The Common was no longer part of our daily activity that we could enjoy with our dog. And for those people that come to the park to enjoy watching our dogs play, they too had something taken away.
Dog parks are fun and highly entertaining for the public, especially in high tourism areas such as the Boston Common. When Libby, my 2 1/2 year old Rhodesian Boxer (Rhodesian Ridgeback, Boxer mix) and I go to parks you can’t help but notice those standing along the perimeter watching me and others interact with our dogs. Those people are smiling, laughing and enjoying pure canine frolic. Sometimes they come over and ask for the name or breed of our pet. Other times they figure as locals we’ll know what restaurants they should go to or what they should see while they’re in Boston. At all times our dogs sport the true emblem of our city: friendly, outgoing and inviting to all. Our dogs are an asset benefiting tourism and the community.
Three Public Policy students at the University of Southern California produced a report called The Case for Space. It is a fair and balanced document addressing the pros and cons of an off leash area for an area in Los Angeles. The content recognizes the right of recreation areas for taxpayers and their dogs. It also provides a look at the concerns and needs of establishing well as maintaining those recreational areas where dogs and people interact. It’s worth reading and directs itself towards a win-win scenario for dog owners and non-dog owners.
Did you know DogParkUSA.com interactively maps over 900 dog parks in the United States?
Did you know Boston Common is the oldest park in the country? It dates back to 1634 and is almost 50 acres in size. Earlier on the Common was used as a cow pasture. The fencing was rustic post-and-rail. It wasn’t until 1830 that cows were banished and that the Common was converted to pleasure ground and park. What remains constant with the Common is its community embrace that is inviting to all Bostonians and visitors from around the world. It has long been a center of civic activism marked by not only the Revolution but by speeches made on premise by Martin Luther King Jr., Pope John Paul II, and Gloria Steinem (advocate of the feminist revolution) and many others.
Did you know the City of Boston has a dog fouling ordinance? Section 16-1.10a of the city code, requires dog owners to remove and properly dispose of any feces left by their dogs. This ordinance covers waste left by your dog on sidewalks, streets and parks, and on your neighbor's yards.
When walking your dog, the law necessitates you to be prepared for such occurrences and be equipped with a bag or some other means of feces removal. After it is removed, it is important to dispose of the feces properly, either in a toilet or in a trash container (after being secured in a plastic bag).
WOOF Patrol: What do we learn from our dogs?
Alain: Being a single guy in the city, I'd like to think Libby (Boxer - Rhodesian Ridgeback mix) has taught me a little bit about responsibility. My last dog, Tyson, gave me a hard lesson in saying goodbye to someone you love. And while I'm not really sure if this counts as learning from my dog, a loved one gave me a magnet for my fridge that reads: "Lord, help me become the person my dog thinks I am."