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New dog rules OK’d at Hingham park

Leashing, waste among problems

By Jessica Bartlett
Globe Correspondent / September 4, 2011

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Patti Coyle, chairwoman of the Bare Cove Park Committee, stood up and grabbed the large square sign behind her, and placed it in front of Hingham selectmen.

“Pick Up Your Dog’s Waste,’’ it read. “Take It With You.’’

In mid-August, the committee was brought into the selectmen’s meeting to discuss goals for the coming year. But with Coyle’s sign at that first meeting, the discussion quickly turned toward the park’s problems - specifically with dogs - leading to new regulations last week.

“We have to do something about it,’’ Coyle said in mid-August. “There are a number of folks who don’t obey our rules, and they don’t control their dogs and don’t pick up after them, so we’re reaching out.’’

According to Coyle, dog walkers have been problematic within the grassy knolls of the park’s borders, and unleashed dogs have been found wandering the South Shore Conservatory. Some dogs don’t even have collars with the proper tags on them.

“We have to do a bit more work,’’ Coyle said.

The numbers support the verbal accounts.

From March 2007 to March 2011, police received 23 reports of dogs being out of control in the park, Coyle told selectmen. That included five dog-on-dog attacks, two dog-bites-human reports, and one dog attack on a wildlife creature that eventually resulted in the animal’s death.

According to Coyle, a man was knocked over by a black lab in Bare Cove Park, breaking six ribs; another was bitten twice.

To mitigate the problem, Hingham’s animal control officer has begun spending more time in the park, a cost that the committee said would be paid by the Friends of the Bare Cove Park in the future. Currently, the group pays part of the officer’s overtime on weekends.

The presence of the officer has helped already, Coyle said. Some people will see the officer’s car at the gate and turn right around and leave. Still, the committee wanted more safeguards to manage the hundreds of dogs that visit the park daily.

“We don’t want dogs to get in trouble; we want people to be fined,’’ Coyle said at the initial meeting.

Signs at the gates urging residents to pick up after their animals might help. The committee also suggested requirements that dogs be leashed in certain areas.

“In the future, we might be asking for stiffer fines,’’ Coyle said.

Yet despite the pamphlets available at kiosk stations around the commons, and the rules listed on the park website, “people are taking advantage of our good nature,’’ Coyle said.

At their meeting last week, selectmen approved regulations that dogs be leashed until reaching the double yellow line at the two park gates. Dogs can continue to roam unleashed within the park. Additionally, signs will encourage owners to pick up after their dogs, and metal detectors will be prohibited to discourage people from digging in the park.

If dog issues do not improve, selectmen “might even prohibit dogs entirely,’’ from the park, Selectmen chairman John Riley said.

According to John Hersey, a Hingham resident, it’s excessive to have so many rules, when the majority of dogs in the park are under control.

“If he’s under control, the dog should have a free pass,’’ Hersey said.

“I believe if there is an issue of any dog, the animal officer should have the inspection of any dog and owner. . . . If a dog is well behaved, then what’s the problem?’’

Hersey mainly objected to the requirements that dogs be leashed from the car to the park gates, and submitted an amendment to the article, asking that dogs with a voice-activated collar not fall under these restrictions. He also asked that service dogs be given a free pass from leash requirements.

Selectmen took the amendments under advisement and will vote on them at their next meeting.

Although some were sensitive to the plight of the animals, other dog owners applauded the provisions.

“I reminded a woman that she had two labs and she entered the park with no leashes or trash bags. I told her she might be asked to leave if she didn’t comply with the rules,’’ said Liz Comrack, who lives on Main Street. “Those of us who use the park on a daily basis are pretty prudent about reminding people to do the right thing, and you probably have 500 to 600 dogs going through that park daily.’’

Although Comrack said the clean-up and leash requirements were for the best, completely ridding the park of all dogs was not the right option, either.

“We appreciate being able to walk our dogs there,’’ she said. “For the three percent that aren’t being good, there are 97 percent that are doing the right thing.’’

Visit www.boston.com/hingham to register your opinion on the new dog regulations at Bare Cove Park.

Jessica Bartlett can be reached at jessica.may.bartlett@gmail.com.