Dog Bite Unleashes Hubbard Park Policy Debate

by Carla Occaso

MONTPELIER —  Police were notified on August 25 that a woman jogging in Hubbard Park was bitten by a dog, according to police media logs. Tom Andrews, the husband of the woman bitten in Hubbard Park, posted  a question on Front Porch Forum asking if the owner of the dog could please contact him to advise if the dog was up to date on rabies shots. Since that posting, controversy has erupted on the social networking website regarding the practice of allowing dogs to roam off leash in Hubbard Park.

“It’s clear that I’ve landed, unknowingly, in a huge and ongoing controversy. We were just trying to find out if the dog that bit my wife had rabies vaccinations up to date,” Andrews wrote in a recent posting. “The fact is that my wife was run down from behind while jogging in Hubbard park by a dog that was not under control, leashed or otherwise, of the owner. The dog didn’t bark, growl — nothing. It never made a sound. She was bitten badly on the arm. The skin was broken, she was bleeding and days later she is still bruised.”

The official stance from the parks commission is that “dogs are welcome in Hubbard Park and may be off leash” as long as they are under voice control. In addition, dog owners must always keep their dog in sight, carry a leash for the dog if needed, pick up after the dogs and have a current rabies vaccination, according to the code of conduct posted on the city of Montpelier’s website. However, several people have said an unpredictable cadre of free roaming dogs keeps them away from the park for fear of larger or out of control dogs — particular concern was expressed for the elderly and those with small children.

Since Andrews’ original posting, numerous people posted either in support of allowing unleashed dogs in the park or against the practice. Below are some sample public postings on the Front Porch Forum website.

One of the more impassioned postings for keeping dogs on a leash:

“As a dog lover and advocate I can see the ideal of having dogs off leash (in Hubbard Park). However, as a runner and pedestrian in Hubbard Park I feel like I shouldn’t have to succumb to your lack of discipline and control of your animal off leash. I have no problem kicking your dog in front of you if you cannot control it (in) the assigned areas (you know who you are and you know who I am). I drove (through) the park the other day at a very slow crawl and had four dogs off leash cross over me at the very last minute where I would have run them over while owners were watching and doing NOTHING. While running, a dog rolled up on me while an owner stood by and did NOTHING except say “oh, she’s friendly.” How does any pedestrian know that? Get your shit together dog “owners” or stay out of Hubbard Park.” – Jerry Zeankowski.

And a post in favor of allowing them to go off leash:

“I am currently not a dog owner, but I have been in the past, and will be again in the future. Although the news of a dog biting a runner in Hubbard is distressing, I LOVE the fact that I can go to my local park and be greeted by excited, friendly, unleashed dogs while walking. I have never encountered an unfriendly dog in Hubbard Park. I am not belittling the seriousness of the dog bite and do hope the owner is able to provide what is needed, but in all honesty, I went today to Hubbard to get my dog fix, and was greeted, as usual, by happy, well-natured, fun furry friends. I feel all these great dogs need to be recognized along with the one incident that brought this issue to Front Porch Forum.” – Emma Joyce

And finally, many people advocated for installing a fenced-in dog park area, as in this posting:

“A dog park makes good sense in most communities and should do well in ours too. I’ve been running and skiing the trails at Hubbard for more than 15 years. In my experience, the majority of dogs off leash do meet the “under control” requirement. They stick near to their owners and respond quickly to voice commands. A significant minority are nice friendly dogs who are poorly trained and not “under control.” I’ve been chased down by dogs like this, most often when they are running in small packs. One walker really cannot manage three, four or more exuberant canines off leash. A very small number of untrained, unpredictable and potentially vicious dogs with irresponsible owners cause real problems. It’s a rare occurrence, but I’ve been cornered against a tree by a snarling dog with its back up and its teeth bared. If I’d twitched a muscle, I would have been bitten. The owner was unresponsive and unapologetic. She didn’t even have a leash with her. I found a parks crew, told them what happened, and they said there was nothing they could do, so that dog and that owner remained in the park, presenting a danger to others. It would be helpful if the park commission would develop and post specific guidelines. These should reiterate the “off leash but under control” policy (making clear what “under control” means), place a limit on the number of dogs per walker in this category, and give concrete information on how and where to report incidents aimed at reducing the likelihood of their recurrence, whether that means outreach to owners so that they can bring their behavior in compliance with the posted guidelines or whether it means a temporary ban on park use while the specifics of reported incidents are given further consideration in a fair process.” – Carol Doerflein

A committee who helped advise the park commission on the dog ordinance proposed “that the Parks Commission promote the idea of a fenced in off leash dog park to the City Council. There are a few potential areas that could be fenced in and designated as dog parks on existing City Parks or Recreation land. A fenced in dog park would become an additional option for dog owners who want to socialize their dogs and could relieve some of the pressure on Hubbard Park.”

Disclaimer reprinted from Frontporchforum.com “Even though a message will only be posted in the relevant Neighborhood Forum(s), members should consider that anything published online can find its way out to the broader world and Internet.”

The next meeting of the Montpelier Parks Commission will be September 8 at 7 p.m. at the Montpelier Police Department conference room. The public is invited and encouraged to attend.

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