OPINION: Let’s Let The Dog’s Out!

by Marilyn Mode, Danis Regal, Robert Kest, John Akielaszek, Friends of the Dogs of Hubbard Park

Once again the issue of dogs in Hubbard Park has become a prickly topic of discussion in our community. Unfortunately, as in the past, the discussion is laced with incivility, punctuated by hateful letters threatening violence against dogs. Alas, there is not much we can do to address those who wish to engage in this fashion. However, we would like to present the following perspective for a civil discussion.

The issue of dogs in Hubbard Park is often wrongly framed as an issue of people’s rights versus dogs’ rights. Rather, it is an issue of the rights of the many dog owners who wish to be with their dogs in Hubbard Park versus the rights of some non-owners who wish for the park to be dog free.  Dog owners are legitimate users of the park and tax paying citizens of Montpelier whose viewpoint is deserving of respect and consideration.

Hubbard Park is the only place where dogs can be off leash — an important part of their health, socialization and a source of pleasure with their owners. People who do not wish to be around dogs have many other options for walking in Montpelier where dogs must be on leash (e.g., North Branch, other Montpelier parks and the miles and miles of streets and sidewalks). The Dog Ordinance Committee is recommending to the City Council that dogs be leashed on all city streets and the bike path. Consequently, dogs and their owners will have no other option but Hubbard Park.

Everyone, dog owners and non-owners alike, are opposed to aggressive or badly behaved dogs being in the park. The responsibility of maintaining a safe environment is squarely on the dog owner and it is those irresponsible owners and their aggressive dogs that should be dealt with. Drunk driving is a serious issue, but we do not outlaw driving or drinking. Instead we address those that cannot do so responsibly and prohibit them from continuing, while allowing the responsible people to exercise their rights. It is inherently unfair to punish a whole community for the misdeeds of a few.

The dog community is an important part of the economic health of the city with tourism and many businesses benefiting directly:  stores that carry dog food and supplies, groomers, veterinarians, etc.

The parks commission strongly supports the current dog policy in Hubbard Park together with the dog ordinance enacted in August 2016 — both of which were established after several years of study and community input. The commissioners recently advised the city council that they are opposed to any change in this policy. The current rules delineate procedures to report dog incidents imposing penalties that include substantial fines.

It should be noted that any attempt at enforcement of a “no dogs off leash policy in Hubbard Park” will be a nightmare for the police.  It would require an active policing presence which would be a problem logistically and come at a substantial cost to taxpayers.

In closing, we dog owners are simply asking for a place within the community where we can be with our dogs off leash.  We have no problem leashing our dogs upon request, if someone is uncomfortable, until he passes by. We can all share the park. We believe that this issue is best dealt with through communication and the enforcement of current policies rather than through increased rules and restrictions.

We urge you to vote against leashing dogs in Hubbard Park and vote NO on Article 4 on the ballot June 20.

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