Going To Rock Meadow? Put A Leash On Your Pooch!

Photo: Rock Meadow Conservation land

It’s spring. You and your canine have been cooped up for … how long? The temperature outside is going up and the sun is warm. With all of Belmont’s parks closed, the destination of choice for Fido and you to go for a romp has become town conservation land including Rock Meadow and Lone Tree Hill. For many owners, it’s been the first chance to allow their pets to stretch their four legs for a month.

And that’s been a problem in the eyes of the town official who manage the land and who see after residents’ health. Off-leash dogs have become a nuisance for several reasons as their owners are congregating along the trails during this time of social distancing.

And they are now putting their collective feet down. In coordination with the Belmont Conservation Commission, Belmont Board of Health, Belmont Police and Belmont Animal Control, the town is placing all visitors at Rock Meadow and Lone Tree Hill Conservation Land and Trails on notice that there are expectations of responsible behavior throughout the properties.

“We are all a part of this community and we are asking for everyone’s help and cooperation so we can keep our treasured trails open and safe for everyone,” read the notice released this week.

First and foremost, DOGS MUST BE LEASHED AT ALL TIMES. Off-Leash dogs are not permitted in Belmont. Going forward, this bylaw will be strictly enforced with fines issued with a fine up to $500.

Then there is the issue of DOG WASTE. Officials remind owners to pick up and properly dispose of your dog’s waste and anything else you bring with you. If there is no trash barrel or if the barrel is full, please take it home. Do not leave bagged waste on the property. You can be fined up to $500 if you don’t pick up after your poochie.

DO NOT LEAVE YOUR HOUSE IF YOU ARE SICK. Rules relating to self-isolation for those who might be sick with the coronavirus applies even when in the great outdoors.

Relating to the previous statement, MAINTAIN PHYSICAL DISTANCING; keep you and your dog at least 6-feet away from other trail users and do not cluster in groups as that may prevent others from getting around you outside a safe six-foot distance.

And lastly, IF A PARKING AREA IS CROWDED, SO ARE THE TRAILS. Residents should visit another Conservation area if the parking lot is full or come back at a time when it is less crowded. Do not park in front of Conservation Land gates or along Mill Street. This will be monitored by Belmont Police.

“Once again, WE are all part of this community and we are asking for everyone’s help! If you see a walker violating these rules, please kindly remind them,” read the email.

Dog Owners Seek To Keep Belmont’s Current Off-Leash Regs

Photo: The public meeting on the town’s existing off-leash regulations.

Just how passionate many (or is that most) dog owners are of their pets can be found in the phrase from the famous wildlife writer Roger Caras: “If you don’t own a dog … there is not necessarily anything wrong with you, but there may be something wrong with your life.”

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that nearly 60 dog owners and their friends jammed into the Board Of Selectmen’s Room at Town Hall on a beautiful first day of summer, Monday, June 20, to speak at a public meeting on the town’s existing off-leash regulations.

Belmont Board of Health Chair David Alper called the meeting to hear from all sides on the permit program that allows pets to run unencumbered.


Belmont Board of Health Chair David Alper (center) with board members Donna David (left) and Julie C. Lemay.

“We three are here to listen to you,” said Alper, referring to his board colleagues, Donna David and Julie C. Lemay. “We want as much information as we can get about the current situation … plus or negative.”

The off-leash program requires dogs and their owners meet with Belmont’s Animal Control Officer, John Maguranis, for a pet behavior assessment and a review of the regulations. While the Board of Health sets the rules, the program is run through the Recreation Department, which has a strict 200 permit annual limit while the town has more than 1,600 registered dogs.

Alper said the nexus for the meeting was a steady stream of letters to the board expressing “unhappiness” of the program which dogs were becoming a nuisance to pedestrians or scaring children in playgrounds and open spaces around town.

Those complaints were joined by the ever-present issue of dog “waste” on playgrounds shared by youth sports and residents seeking passive enjoyment.

For dog owners, the status quo is far more satisfying than any conceivable alternative. Many of the owners told how their pets are becoming more socialized and easier to handle by being taken to the open parks.

“This is one thing that Belmont does better than any town around us … where owners can take their dogs to run and play and chase balls,” said Susan Demb from Louise Road, who spoke for many in the audience. 

But for one meeting participant, the program is “not always amazing,” Azra Nelson of Vincent Avenue said over 12 years of using Belmont parks she has found some dog owners “rude and expect their dogs can run to anybody and anywhere, not picking up while pestering kids and other people” where now her children are now scared of dogs.

“I pick up this sense of entitlement that ‘My dog can do whatever and that should be, OK because they are friendly,” said Nelson, who suggested “clearer rules” be set for owners who are socializing or ignoring situations when their pets are jumping on people.

In an apparent act of contrition, owners admitted that there were some “bad” owners operating “on the fringe,” who don’t collar their pets or pick up after them. It is those few outliers that owners say are hurting the doggy community. 

“When I see a dog misbehaving, I’m more mad than someone else who’s not a dog owner; I feel like you’re threatening my dog’s ability to have fun and my ability to have fun and you’re harming my park. And that irresponsibility doesn’t belong in our town,” said Scott Abrams of King Street.

Abrams said there were plenty of examples of youth sports participants who are just as ambivalent to rules concerning picking up after them or of residents to shot off “fireworks” at PQ Park, “so everyone can be a little bit more responsible.”

While dog parks – fenced in enclosures set aside for unleashed canines – are popping up in many communities (Arlington, Waltham, and Cambridge) surrounding Belmont and garnered some support Monday, most owners said the facilities are not large enough to allow for the amount and quality of running and socializing their pets need.

“They end up becoming hard-packed dirt patches where there’s not enough room for a dog to run and play,” said Johanna Swift Hart of Hull Street.

The consensus from the dog owner’s was that easy to read signage and notification on “correct” behavior and hours and times off-leash dogs can be in Belmont’s parks would be the first step in minimizing the conflicts between the animals and people.
They also advised an easily recognizable off-leash permit for the dog’s collar should be used to ID those pets that are licensed to run as well as owners volunteering their dogs for a program on how children should approach a dog. 

For many residents, the program is more than just for their pets.

“We were drawn to this area because it seems to be both common to people who have children and people who like [dogs] and this would be a great place to have both,” said Rachel Kilmer, who with her husband, have discovered the owners have bonded and have formed friendships through their use of the parks.

“It’s a really important thing to have in the community that brings people together,” said Kilmer. 

Belmont Rabies Clinic This Saturday

The Belmont Health Department is holding its annual dog and cat rabies clinic on Saturday, April 5 at the Chenery Middle School’s Community Room which is located just off the parking lot off of Oakley Road.

The cost is $10 per animal.

Each animal is given their own time period; the department doesn’t want them to be fighting like cats and dogs.

Residents with cats only should come between 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Citizens with dogs and cats can come between 1:30 p.m. and 2 p.m.

And dogs owners will be arriving between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Micro-chipping your pets will also be available at the clinic at an additional cost.