NEWBURYPORT — One of the most contentious issues in City Council chambers this year was whether to introduce an "Off-Leash Pilot Program" that would provide dog owners with more options in exercising their pets.
Now, after compiling a survey of more than 450 people — about half of whom are not dog owners — the city has some clear indication of what people think. A survey by Ghlee Woodworth, the city's "dog ambassador," found that dog owners and the dogless alike are finding the program to be worthwhile.
In April, by a 6-5 vote, councilors approved an experimental plan that was created in large part by owners who wanted the chance to have their dogs roam free at selected city parks for certain hours of the day. The pilot program is slated to run from April through December.
Woodworth has met with hundreds of visitors to the city parks and explained the new program. She found that people valued the effort to keep them informed.
"Every person who I talked to appreciated the fact that the city had someone out there to tell them about the new rules and hear their concerns," Woodworth said.
"As a public-relations exercise, it was very successful. People thanked me and were pleased that the city made the effort."
Woodworth is a historian and author, and her survey was complete and thought-provoking.
She said she spoke to 456 people at March's Hill, Clipper City Rail Trail, Moseley Woods and Cashman Park. She said she spoke to 15 dog walkers at least a second time, and she conversed with four nannies or parents a second time. Part of her mission was to determine whether adults with children were intimidated by unleashed dogs.
She said that 99.6 percent of dog owners and non-dog owners "are supportive as long as the rules are followed."