WEST NEWBURY — Town officials are considering designation of “pedestrian-only” trails at Mill Pond after discussion before the Select Board about a recent dog bite incident.
Ryan Goodwin, chair of the Mill Pond Committee, concluded it might be necessary to designate some trails for people without dogs so that dogs are kept out of certain sections of the 213-acre recreation area. A numbered trail system now under development could make it clear where dogs are allowed, Goodwin said.
Last month, a group of students running trails at Mill Pond Recreation Area for cross-country training were reportedly harassed by a dog that was not leashed.
The dog bit a runner who was taken to the emergency room and had to undergo a post-exposure rabies vaccine protocol, consisting of a series injections over two weeks. A woman who appeared to be the dog’s owner was said to have shouted to the boy that the dog was up to date on its shots.
But without having any documented proof that the animal received a rabies shot, doctors advised taking a cautious approach, subjecting the boy to the series of shots. Goodwin contended that the vast majority of people visiting Mill Pond and Pipestave Hill are considerate of others.
Incidents such as the dog bite are infrequent and rarely happen once animals are off running on the trails, he said.
The problems arise when people gather with their dogs in the parking lot before or after hitting the trails. It doesn’t help that the current animal control bylaw, which calls for dogs off leash to be “under immediate voice control,” is arbitrary, according to Goodwin.
“How do you enforce it?” he asked, suggesting that it is an unenforceable regulation.
“People say their dogs are under control and they arguably are not,” said Select Board member David Archibald. He noted that under the town’s animal control bylaw, people who bring five or more dogs to the recreation area — such as professional dog walkers — must keep the pets on a leash at all times.
As a runner, Archibald said he has been chased by dogs off leash multiple times around the Moulton Street reservoir.
“People do what they can get away with,” he said.
Yelling “My dog is friendly” is not the same as an animal being under voice control, board member Wendy Reed noted.
Board member Rick Parker asked if the dog bite incident was “an outlier or does it happen and we just don’t hear about it?”
Short of banning dogs from the area, Mill Pond will never be without risk, the town leaders agreed.
Still, Reed said a significant number of residents no longer go to Mill Pond because they are afraid of dogs or do not want to deal with the number of dogs at the park. Mill Pond is frequently used by out-of-town professional dog walkers and others who appreciate being able to let their dogs run free.
“I feel like we do need to do something,” Reed said.
The town website says dogs must be leashed in all parking areas at Mill Pond and the River Bend property; no dogs or horses are permitted in the picnic area or near the dock; dogs and horses can swim in a designated area toward the woods; people visiting the recreation area with dogs must pick up after them and dispose of the bags properly; and people must use a leash to keep pets under control, if necessary.
Parker said he believed dogs should be leashed in any area within sight of a parking lot. Reed favored asking the animal control officer to regularly make brief patrols of the area.
Goodwin suggested making an effort to better educate the public by putting up signs around the recreation area and stating the rules on the town’s website.
He will speak to his committee about possibly increasing the areas where dogs must be leashed and to consider creating “pedestrian-only” trails.