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Dog Leash Proposal Breeds Division at Public Hearing

Over 40 speakers weighed in on a plan to require leashes for dogs at many Darien parks while carving out special off-leash hours.

If you have an opinion on the Parks and Recreation Commission's proposed dog leash laws, chances are someone voiced it Wednesday night at .

Over 40 people — from elected officials to organizational heads to concerned residents — stepped up to the lectern at a two-and-a-half-hour public hearing, which put in sharp relief the debate over safety and personal freedom surrounding the plan.

The proposed leash ordinance, which would require approval by Darien's Representative Town Meeting, has been tweaked, discussed, and . Wednesday's hearing concerned the provisions of the would-be law affecting the town's parks.

Currently, dogs must be kept on leash in and and are banned from , , and playing fields at .

The commission's latest draft would require dogs to be on leash at most of the town's parks while carving out morning off-leash hours according to the following schedule:

  • Cherry Lawn Park, peak season (March 1-Dec. 15): Off-leash hours would run from dawn to 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday and dawn to 8 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Leashes would be required in parking lots, around playgrounds, and around playing fields, and dogs would continue to be banned from the playing fields themselves.
  • Cherry Lawn Park, off-peak season (Dec. 16-Feb. 28): Off-leash hours would run from dawn to 11:30 a.m. seven days a week with the same restrictions.
  • Woodland Park and Selleck's Woods: Dogs would be allowed off leash on select trails from dawn to 10:30 a.m. seven days a week. Signage would be placed throughout the parks designating rules and leash instruction on specific trails.  
  • Diller Property: Dogs would be allowed off leash, dawn to dusk, seven days a week.
  • , : Dogs would be required to be on leash at all times.
  • Weed Beach, Pear Tree Point Beach: Dogs would continue to be banned except for service animals.

In a letter read aloud Wednesday by Parks & Rec chair Jane Branigan, Darien Chief of Police Duane Lovello warned that an ordinance that varies based on season, time of day, or locations within the parks would be "impossible to objectively enforce."

"This latest draft appears to incorporate to some degree nearly all the elements the police department has cautioned against," Lovello wrote.

Chris Filmer, president of the Friends of Selleck's Woods, told the commission that allowing dogs off-leash in the park would harm its status as a nature preserve, as "unleashed dogs are viewed by wildlife as predators"

"This off-leashing proposal is so contrary to our mission and everything we have done," Filmer said, adding that unleashed dogs also pose a threat to children who visit the woods.

Anne Finn, whose daughter was badly injured by a unleashed dog in Cherry Lawn Park, called for the commission to require leashes at all times in all parks, calling it a "no-brainer."

"By allowing dogs off-leash in our town parks, you are taking away the rights of the people ... and giving rights to the dogs first. It should be the other way around," Finn said.

"If this commission did nothing, there is currently a problem: my property is completely overrun by dogs off-leash now." said Frank Cirillo, whose house borders Woodland Park.

Cirillo said that both of his children had been "jumped" by dogs on his property and that the flow of dogs past his house had left droppings in his yard.

"If you do the math and take 150 dogs a day in the park, off the leash, doing their business, that's 109,500 dog droppings in a year. ... If you allow dogs off the leash, will an owner walk into a wooded area and pick up after their dog? No," Cirillo said.

But Pam Zangrillo, a member of the Darien Dog Owners Group (DDOG), cited the examples of Fairfield, Norwalk, and Greenwich to argue that compromise is possible between owners wanting to exercise their dogs off-leash and those concerned about park safety and nature.

"In the end, our parks are public parks, owned not by one group, but by all 20,000 residents and taxpayers of Darien," Zangrillo said. "Walking with my dog in the park is one of the most joyful parts of my day."

Zangrillo also relayed several of DDOG's recommended changes to the ordinance, including that late afternoon/evening off-leash hours be added to accommodate commuters.

Resident James Cerruti criticized the commission's response to residents seeking off-leash hours and said that "anything bad seems to be blamed on the dogs" rather than other animals that chase birds.

"Have we gone so far off the reservation that migratory birds have more rights than the taxpaying citizens of Darien to usage of our parklands?" Cerutti asked.

Ed Hawkins, a resident of Mansfield Avenue, said he and wife take their dog to Tilley Pond Park to exercise by playing catch with a frisbee.

"This is a very valuable part of her day," Hawkins said.

"I think it would be a real impingement ... if we simply put down blanket restrictions that it's inappropriate for dogs to be off leash in any park at any time in Darien," he added.

Several speakers invoked the possibility of building a dedicated dog park as an alternative to off-leash hours — a proposal that has so far failed to receive town funding.

"In my opinion, a dog park is a win-win for all of Darien," said Cheryl Russell. "A dog park would have no time restrictions. It would be open 365 days a year. No one would receive a ticket for a dog off-leash."

The Parks and Recreation Commission's next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, June 15.

John Sini May 22, 2011 at 12:14 PM
I have a proposal for compromise: Open most parks (san beaches) to off-leash hours until 9.30 or 10 am year round, when there are fewer users. Require leashes at all times at a park or two (eg, Sellecks Woods). This way any early morning park users can choose to avoid off-leash dogs at all hours at the beaches and an inland park or two. In the meantime, increase fines for uncollected dog waste. As part of the compromise, require the dog owner groups to fund signage and dog waste bag distribution units at all parks that dogs are allowed.
a May 23, 2011 at 03:08 PM
Thanks Luca - Thanks for the clarification regarding your view about not having dogs off leash in public spaces. I share in your view that "Dogs should not be without leash in public spaces." Regarding the stats - I did not quote the numbers to impress anyone but just to put the issue in perspective in terms of Dollars in addition to health and safety! I am NOT against Dog ownership. The issue is of RESPONSIBLITY! Just like someone here has mentioned that if the CHILD did not do anything to the DOG, chances are that a DOG would not have attacked the CHILD. However, is that always true? I have experienced myself when my Sons are playing in the park - some DOGS appraoch them and just walk away, sometimes DOG gets called by the owner and sometimes the DOG BARKS like crazy which is Frightening for a CHILD. If the DOG is on a leash there would be no opportunity for the DOG to come TOO close to the CHILD. I also share the Police chief's view that having a complicated schedule regarding the rules makes enforcement difficult and also wastes resources when these resources need to be deployed for more important matters. I also support the view that if Dogs are allowed off leash (regardless of the hours) it would be almost impossible for Dog owners to go clean after their Dogs. Which as mentioned earlier by someone,overtime it would result in health issues. Hence, the proposal for Dog Park and "NO OFF-Leash hours" makes a lot of sense.
Glasshouse May 23, 2011 at 06:56 PM
If you want to play frisbee with your dog you need to do it in your yard. If you don't have enough room in your yard then find a friend or neighbor who will let you play in their yard. If you can't do either of these and it's really important to you then don't get a dog. Public areas need to be safe for the humans.
Dave May 23, 2011 at 09:07 PM
Okay Glasshouse we better cancel the baseball games and soccer games and close all the playgrounds because kids get hurt on them everyday and it is unsafe. In fact you better just give up going out because driving is dangerous three people were just killed on I 95. Oh yeah, a tornado might hit your house so maybe you should stay in the basement.
sebastian dangerfield May 23, 2011 at 10:46 PM
This issue will best be solved by a compromise. Not the absolutes that 'a' and glasshouse suggest. John Sini proposed one. The early hours certainly will allow for dog owners to give their dog the exercise they need.... Personally, I dont consider enforcement an issue with respect to suggesting times for unleashed dogs. There arent police in restaurants enforcing smoking laws. People remind those in violation , to stop. If they dont, then the police are called. Pretty simple. As far as increasing waste laws...I hope we dont have a dog waste patrolman. And I highly doubt that there are many tickets passed out now, so increasing the fine seems moot. To me its common sense. If I have a child and there are 8 dogs that look out of control, I dont let my child play in that area . If I am a dog owner, and I see kids playing, I respect the fact that my dog might cause a problem, and go elsewhere. Also if I have a dog that is temperamental, I dont bring him out in a place where he might cause a problem. I would have expected the dog people to be more irrational...but it's turning out the anti-dog people are the only ones who have zero latitude on the issue. Employing the term 'billions and millions' to emphasize the enormity of the problem. It;s a solvable problem. You just need to find a balance.
Glasshouse May 24, 2011 at 01:04 PM
I just think that people with dogs should respect the rights of others by keeping their dogs on a leash in a public park. They can still walk there and enjoy the park with leashed dogs. Why is it so bad to suggest that frisbee be played on the owners own property?
Rick May 24, 2011 at 04:37 PM
Luca, you have said what I have said since this whole thing has started. I am very conscious of others when I go to the parks. I try to respect other peoples personal space whether they have a dog, kids or just laying in the sun. I will tell you that on many occasions I go to the parks only when I see there are not too many people there and when there is a sporting event I don't even go in. I have a German Shepherd that is a certified patrol dog. I socialize him every chance I get and practice advanced obedience with him on a daily basis. That being said I do this when the parks are not filled. If you go by the parks the majority of the time they are only a few people in there. As I stated before there are people on both sides of the issue that are arrogant and irresponsible and unwilling to compromise, but I believe the majority of the people are responsible and understanding. I would suggest that for the Cherry Lawn and Bakers Field that when there is a Town Sponsored event all dogs must be on a leash and that all dogs not be allowed in the tennis courts and of course not in the kids play area. For the parks like woodland maybe every other day band dogs from them or strictly enforce the leash ordinance. Just an idea.
james clarke May 24, 2011 at 05:09 PM
I see this as an issue similar to smoking in public places: people should have their freedom to allow their dogs to run free (or smoke) except when it impinges on freedoms (health and safety) of others. All dogs should be kept on leashes when off private property at all times. Period. The RTM and Town leadership is putting itself in a position of liability risk for the behavior of unleashed dogs and the harm they may cause.
LSS May 24, 2011 at 05:25 PM
The fact is, right now, dog owners are consistently breaking the current laws about keeping their dogs on leashes in approved parks and allowing dogs at parks that ban dogs. What would make anyone believe that they will follow the new laws, if they don't respect the current laws? People trump dogs. Keep the dogs on a leash and off the beaches.
Lyons May 24, 2011 at 06:26 PM
I grew up in a town very similar to what I hear was the old Darien-without- fences, that was very casual about leash laws. And it was a wonderful part of the day to take my little Beagle dog to a park or beach and watch it leap around after a frisbee, or tumble about with children shrieking with laughter. There are always some who ruin it for others. (By this I mean the owners) I had once seen large dog at the beach walk right up to a toddler intent on finishing a sandwich, and guess who got that last bite?! And that was the beginng of the end of the dogs at my hometown beach! I feel it is the owner's fault for allowing liberties for a misbehaving dog. Some breeds are prone to misbehavior, and some owners do not deserve to keep such a dog. The fact that any owner allows a dog with aggressive tendencies off leash is frightening. We all have stories. A dog came after me on the sidewalk once, in front of where it resided. Would a leash law have prevented this? Do all dogs have to be collared with invisible fence apparatus? If fines were to be increased (I mean quite dramatically) in these aggressive situations, as for those owners who do not pick up after their dogs, would this be enough? There are so many wonderful storeis about man's best friend, should a few ruin it for all? I would like to see dogs allowed on the beaches, as they do at Tod's Point in Greenwich, at least off season.
sebastian dangerfield May 24, 2011 at 06:54 PM
Is there really a town liability issue here? Or, as usual, has someone got it wrong? If there is a liability issue here, then do we also have an issue when a dog attacks someone on a public street? Or if a turtle bites someone on a beach? Or even if a private person in a car, crashes into someone else on a public street? Im guessing the town has no more liability if a dog bites someone in a park , than on a street. Which means--I doubt it is real...and just one more example of ridiculousness.
Glasshouse May 25, 2011 at 03:01 AM
In the above article Ms. Zangrillo states that walking in the park with her dog is the most joyful part of her day. Why can't she just keep doing that? I'm assuming that the dog is on a leash. Plus what is the leash law in Tilly's Pond?
sebastian dangerfield May 25, 2011 at 04:05 PM
Has a child anywhere ever been bitten on private property? If so, perhaps we should ban dogs from Darien full stop. And with respect to dogs being confined to private property as several people above have suggested----for those people who live in apartments and affordable housing, where there is no private space, I take it that the glasshouses, and James Clarkes of this world want to deny these apartment dwellers the ability to own dogs. For a group of people whose opportunities are already limited, James, I am ashamed at your insensitivity.
a May 26, 2011 at 09:20 PM
Some recent incidents in and around Darien - I can't believe we have people here still arguing for having DOGS off-leash Pit Bull attacks mother, children http://www.wtnh.com/dpp/news/fairfield_cty/news_wtnh_stamford_pitt_bull_attacks_mother_children_200910131659_rev1 Norwalk 2-year-old attacked by pit bull for second time Read more: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/default/article/Norwalk-2-year-old-attacked-by-pit-bull-for-1395460.php#ixzz1NUjYiLhn Stamford police dog attacks Greenwich jogger http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/policereports/article/Stamford-police-dog-attacks-Greenwich-jogger-1376724.php http://www.dariennewsonline.com/news/article/Dog-suffers-injuries-after-being-attacked-by-two-1372151.php
sebastian dangerfield May 26, 2011 at 10:39 PM
A-- I still dont see the correlation. You continue to post irrelevant stuff. A police dog bites a woman, and you then extrapolate that to unleashed dogs being dangerous. The police dog was on a leash...he got away...it's a dog trained to attack, and it was in the supervision and leashed by a trained expert. You actually argue against dogs on leashes unwittingly. The bridgeport incident involved a stray dog a pit bull. Again, if you want to find dangerous scary stuff in our society, it isnt too hard to comb the news and then mete out warning signals that are similar. I dont know why you drive, since I can find tens of thousands of fatal car accidents. I dont know why you walk, when I can find tens of thousands of fatal pedestrian accidents. The list can go on. I dont think anyone is unaware that dogs have bitten people in this world. Do you think that this is news? The argument isnt if dogs can be dangerous. It should be if there are places in town where dogs can run free. I dont walk my dog in a park--so I dont even know--but can anyone on this thread tell me if it's commonplace for 12 toddlers to be playing on the grass when either a police dog, a stray pit bull, or even a supervised dog is allowed to just interupt the play time? Are people that disrespectful in this town? Or , is 'A' simply creating hysteria to solve a problem that has no correlation to a trained attack dog attacking a jogger?
Rick May 26, 2011 at 10:40 PM
To a, I do feel bad for the little girl in Norwalk, but it wasn't the dogs fault. The way I read it, was that both the Mom and Grandmother left a child alone in a room with a dog that had bitten her before. So I ask you who is to blame? It's not the dogs fault. I do see a very clear case for bad parenting and neglect on the two adults. What parent in their right mind would ever leave a 4 year old child unsupervised with a dog that had bitten their own child before or even just alone for that matter. As I read it the child caused the bit the first time while interfered with the dog while he was trying to eat and who knows what she did when left all alone with the dog in some other room unsupervised. The Stamford pit bull incident is clearly a case of a bad dog owner and or the dog escaped from their home. But again it's not the dogs fault, it's the owners. For Woodland Park where was the ACO to enforce the leash ordinance? Unfortunately Darien has only one ACO and can't be everywhere. So their is a lack of enforcement due to lack of man power. To a and both sides please see that there is always 2 sides to any indecent and we have to be mature and open minded to to see the big picture and the truth. Stop blaming the dogs for everything and look at the true cause....irresponsible and arrogant people, both dog owners and non dog owners. Fortunately these people make up a very small percentage of the general public, but unfortunately have loud voices.
sebastian dangerfield May 26, 2011 at 10:46 PM
A--and james --and glasshouse--- can you explain--without using hysteria and exagerations, why it would be a problem for the park to be open to unleashed dogs until 830 am monday-friday? or some other variation. This way dogs can get some exercise--and the only consideration for people would be if they are comfortable sharing the park at those hours, or if they should wait? Is there something wrong with compromise?
Rick May 26, 2011 at 10:56 PM
Luca, unfortunately I think when you ask these people for a mature and open minded answer you might as well talk to a brick wall. I think that they feel they are above all and will not be willing to do the mature thing and consider a compromise. We can can only try the educate the uneducated.
sebastian dangerfield May 27, 2011 at 06:00 AM
Right , rick There appears to be an equation in these people's heads that says : Dogs are potentially dangerous ( and I can google and find incidents) so therefore, we should never ever (did I say never ever ever) allow any dogs ( pit bulls and trained attack dogs are apparently the same as a beagle and a golden retriever) where people MIGHT be at the park at the same time. If you suggest 630 am--and a man might be talking on his cell phone, to these people --there was an attack in Guatemala once with a man on a cell phone--so therefore we should never consider any compromise or have a discussion about solutions. There are absolutes in this world (and people have been bitten) so therefore, the case is closed.
John Sini May 27, 2011 at 11:30 AM
Page A-13 of the Darien News notes that the Town is NOT liable for dog attacks on town property.
LSS May 27, 2011 at 12:59 PM
Yes, Luca, the world is a dangerous place. Yes, I could be struck by lightning walking out my front door on a sunny day. It's just highly unlikely. Dog bites aren't that uncommon, therefore precautions need to be taken. It can't be just a suggestion, because the worst offender dog owners will not follow the "suggestions" and more bites will happen. Dogs should be on leashes in public. It is a safety issue, just like traffic laws. And by the way, the police dog was off leash, getting into the patrol car, not leashed as you stated.
NCFamily May 27, 2011 at 02:32 PM
I hope that I could interject this comment though I reside in New Canaan and own a 90 pound dog. On a bright sunny afternoon I took my then elementary school aged son to Cherry Lawn Park to meet with some families for an afternoon at the playground. The afternoon was marred by several off-leash dogs (mine was home) that ran throughout the playing field (one dog was slopping wet), some of the dogs ran up to several children (including toddlers) in the playground and others roamed throughout the parking lot. I looked around and could not see any owner with a leash. This scenario played out many times in New Canaan with irresponsible owners who not only run their dogs off-leash but failed to clean up after their pets. Finally, a group of dog owners raised money to create and maintain Spencer's Run, a dog park in Waveny Park with, of course, cooperation from the Town. Since the establishment of a dedicated dog park in New Canaan, I have noticed a significant decrease in the number of off-leash dogs. May I suggest that you invite people from Spencer's Run to help organize a similar effort in Darien and perhaps speak at your meetings? Certainly it would be a win-win situation for all.
a May 27, 2011 at 02:40 PM
Luca you write: "There appears to be an equation in these people's heads that says : Dogs are potentially dangerous ". "You continue to post irrelevant stuff." "is 'A' simply creating hysteria to solve a problem that has no correlation to a trained attack dog attacking a jogger?" A. What part of dog bites a 2 year old doesn't seem dangerous to you? B. Out of many dog bite/attack incidents in and around Darien which one seems irrelevant to you? OR is every incident irrelevant? C. The police Dog that attacked the jogger was off leash. Also, the police chief acknowledged the incident as: "major disappointment to the police department". Atleast, get your facts right. You are demonstrating lack of understanding of the issue. Also, you are using accusative language - which shows your inability to use sound reasoning in making your point. For a compromise - let's learn some good things from our good neighbors in New Canaan. Read above comments from BJ from New Canaan. Thanks BJ :)
sebastian dangerfield May 27, 2011 at 02:52 PM
A- Which part of a dog biting a 2 year old is not dangerous? None. It is dangerous. B- Out of the incidents that occur in and around darien which ones are irrelevant? --The ones where a dog leash law would not have prevented the incident occuring in Darien. C-The fact that the incident was a major disappointment doesnt mean I got my facts wrong. Police dogs are generally leashed. This dog was unleashed simply because it was being put in a car--it was still being supervised by an expert. He wasnt roaming stray. A--you do realize that an attack dog is different from a beagle--correct? A stray pit bull? My point is-would that stray pit bull not have attacked , had their been a leash law? I have answered your question please answer this one. I consider random attacks --not having anything to do with leash laws, to be irrelevant. The jerk owners in the last example......they seemed like they knew the dog is mean...that he might bite, that they didnt care. If you enact a leash law, is that going to make these people good owners? Or will they most likely continue to show blatant disrespect for other people? I hope you agree, A, that if you posted a sign on Cherry Lawn Park "all dogs must be leashed" that all of these incidents most likely would have occurred regardless of a restrictive law. Stray dogs cant read when they need to be on a leash.
sebastian dangerfield May 27, 2011 at 03:03 PM
Just to be clear--when I say -with respect to a the police dog--if the owners drove from Point A in darien to Cherry lawn park. Put a leash on the dog and walked him---and then upon returning to the car-unleashed the dog to put him in the car---and a highly trained dog got away---the leash law would not prevent this from occuring. And once again--I am not in favor of unleashed dogs being allowed in parks at times when the park is populated with people. Im in favor of people reaching compromise. But if you post inflammatory stuff to prove that there are dogs in this world that are not suited to be in public--I agree. But I consider that understanding that viscious dogs exist --and the development of a leash law, to be only somewhat relevant. If there are jerks in darien with mean pit bulls who dont care about them biting people --a leash law wont help--and all you do is punish those conscientious owners who obey laws and respect people.
a May 27, 2011 at 04:36 PM
I agree an attack dog is different from a beagle and a stray pit bull. I also agree, that even if there is a leash law there are chances that people may not respect that either. Just like there are many dog owners who currently don't feel that cleaning up after their dog is their responsibility or that their dogs should not be running all over the playing field off leash. Regarding what I posted - nothing I posted was inflammatory nor am I trying to accomplish something for me nor do I have anything against Dogs or Dog owners. The point is: A - Even well trained Animal can and do attack B - It is going to be difficult to enforce any rules/law - (hence need for educating the Owners to take reponsibility) C - Offering the dog owners the opportunity to take their Dogs to a Dog park instead of every park. Solution is clear and simple.
Rick May 27, 2011 at 05:06 PM
A, in a nut shell here are the points; 1.There must be a form of K9 education for the public with either newspaper articles are town sponsored seminars to both dog AND non dog owners. Basically to educate ALL people who would use the parks. 2.The town needs to hire more ACOs to enforce the ordinances. At this time there is just one. This is a major issue because it does keep the irresponsible dog owners in check, while the rest of the responsible owners then can enjoy the parks without criticism. The fact that there is only one ACO makes it impossible for him to check all the parks and to enforce current rules. He needs help. 3.I think we could make a dog run at Cherry lawn. The area up by the street on either side of the entrance is almost never used. Fence that in and you would have about 2 or so acres. But if you do drive by Cherry lawn you will notice that it doesn't get a lot of use until after 3:30 4 in the after noon and on weekends in the summer. All the other times it is very calm with a few dog people exercising and socializing their dogs. 4.If no dog run was accepted then I would suggest that any time a town sponsored sporting event is going on that all dogs be on a leash at that park. For the wooded parks you could very easily give a Tuesday and Thursday off leash days. All other days must be leashed. The issue here is enforcement. Until there is the man power it will be very difficult to enforce any ordinance at any of the parks and beaches.Just a thought
NCFamily May 27, 2011 at 07:36 PM
Folks, The e-mail address for the New Canaan people who organized and still maintain Spencer's Run in Waveny Park is spencersruncommittee@spencersrun.org. They are a fine group of people who I am sure would be willing to help you set up a dog park in Darien. Their website may be found at www.spencersrun.org (copy/paste to your browser). The website is beautiful and inspiring. Oh, by the way, dog watchers (those folks who don't own dogs but love to watch them) frequent Spencer's Run too. Good luck!
Townie May 27, 2011 at 10:45 PM
Gimme a break. Dogs should be allowed to be off leash in at least one location for one period of time. If too many locations and too many time slots is too much for the cops, then limit it. But nothing is absurd. What happens is that all it takes is one jerk dog owner who can't control his dog to wreck it for everyone else.
sebastian dangerfield May 28, 2011 at 02:17 PM
Maybe we can put up signs "no criminal activity allowed in Darien". That might solve a lot of problems. Stray dogs apparently, would not bite, if there was a leash law.

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