Photo: Off-leash regs revert back to pre-CIVID-19 days.
After pleas from pet owners to allow their pooches to once again run in town parks, the Belmont Recreation Commission in association with the Board of Health approved a return for a one month trial period to the pre-COVID-19 off-leash program for dogs.
With Massachusetts in Stage 3 of its plan to reopen the state from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, more activities have been approved in outdoor spaces including playgrounds and municipal parks.
When parks were initially reopened in a limited way in May, the off-leash program – in which pets are registered by the town’ animal control officer to allow them to be unrestrained in certain parks around Belmont – was restricted daily from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
With the more expanded use of parks set forth by Baker, owners approached the Recreation Commission to either expand into the evening when dogs could exercise and socialize, or revert back to the original rules.
The Rec Commission – which manages town parks and playgrounds – stated the week previous it would approve the return to the original off-leash rules with the Health Board’s blessing.
While the Health Board was supportive of going back to regular hours, members were cautious if a full reopening would lead to an increase in dogs – both tagged and non-permitted – onto the public space.
“We’re just trying to do our best to make sure that we keep everybody safe,” said Suzanne Trasavage, Belmont’s animal control officer. “The dogs, the dog owners, visitors of the park, children in the park … and we’re trying to figure out what the best way to do that.”
Trasavage said COVID-19 has made it difficult for dog-owners to obtain permits or bring them up-to-date due to access restrictions to town buildings. But she said she knows a large majority of the dogs so if there is a pet without a permit, “I’m giving them extra time to go and obtain them.”
Health Board’s Donna David said she had “a lot of hesitation” returning to the original regulations “because it’s not the animals, it’s the people who continue to defy the rules in place.”
“One person can give a bad name to the whole program, and oftentimes those aren’t the dedicated people that are complying and cleaning up and doing all the right things,” said David.
In the past two month, Trasavage said there were a pair of incidents by dogs in parks where pets bit people and one incident in which a dog ran off with a cone.
Belmont’s Health Department Director Wesley Chin said one of the most effective measures to control the program is to rely on self reports from residents if they see something that’s not going right, they’re gonna let us know.”
Health Board Vice Chair Julie Lemay suggested a one month trial period to evaluate how the programs is performing with regular hours.
Stephen Fiore, the Board’s chair, said there hasn’t been a great number of vocal complaints and opposition by the public, so “if all goes smoothly, then that could be … the way things work.”