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."
She found two people who did not support the pilot.
Woodworth said a consistent theme is that dog owners and non-dog owners both were very irritated and frustrated with irresponsible owners who do not pick up after their dog and/or if a dog is a nuisance and is not controlled.
"Some are concerned that a few will ruin the chances of a permanent program," said Woodworth, who does not own a dog but occasionally walks one.
Off-leash rules include the following:
Off-leash dogs are not allowed in playgrounds, tennis courts, basketball courts or athletic fields.
Owners must carry a means to pick up their dog's waste and must clean up after their dog.
Owners must remain with and monitor their dogs. Aggressive dogs are not permitted in this program.
No owner can have more than two unleashed dogs at a time.
Hours of use at popular open areas are as follows: March's Hill, 7:30 to 10:30 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m.; Moseley Woods, 7:30 to 10:30 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m.; and Cashman park, 7:30 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m.
City officials say that the Parks and Health departments will be working with the "off-leash ad hoc committee" throughout the pilot to evaluate its effectiveness.
No one is yelping about success quite yet. In a communication to some city officials, committee members and dog owners, director of public health Robert Bracey said he was pleased with Woodworth's work.
"I do believe that there is still a great deal of work that needs to be done with respect to constituent concerns and with consistent and continuous enforcement," he added.