Planning for Off Leash Dogs
In 2005, the City began a process to look at open space opportunities for dogs and their owners while also considering the wider community’s open space needs; field conditions and maintenance; school and athletic use; historically sensitive areas; potential rules and regulations; and examples from other similar cities. Both shared use options as well as opportunities for dedicated off leash spaces in Cambridge were explored. Open spaces were considered that:
- Were relatively underutilized at the time
- Met certain size requirements
- Not a part of school grounds
- Not heavily used and scheduled athletic facilities
- Contributed to achieving geographic distribution of off leash opportunities throughout the City
In spring 2008, the City conducted a series of meetings to establish shared use hours at certain parks throughout the City. The meetings focused on getting information and feedback from nearby residents, park users and dog owners on the general idea, and also the appropriate times, seasons, locations, and other considerations to take into account for such a program. Similar shared use hours programs have been undertaken in other cities where open space is relatively limited as a reasonable way to accommodate dog owners who desire regular periods of time for legal off leash activity. The initial areas considered, by virtue of their layout, would not necessarily require additional fencing or significant physical changes to park grounds. There was also an effort to distribute the potential spaces geographically throughout the City. There were community meetings regarding shared use hours at Gold Star Mothers (Gore Street) Park in East Cambridge, Corcoran Field (Raymond Street Park) in Neighborhood 9, Clement Morgan (Columbia Street) Park in Area 4, Rafferty Park in the Cambridge Highlands, and Riverside Press Park in the Riverside neighborhood.
As a result of that effort, a shared use off leash hours pilot program began at Corcoran Field (Raymond Street Park) and Gold Star Mothers (Gore Street) Park in 2009. Dogs are allowed off leash in the open grassy areas at those locations between 6 AM and 9 AM only. The rationale for morning shared use hours was:
- Morning hours minimized interference with other park users
- Offering a designated time for dogs to be off leash would encourage responsible dog owners to have their dogs off leash at the appropriate time, rather than at other times
- Enforcement could be focused on the times when dogs were not allowed off leash
- Providing this option could potentially help facilitate observance of other rules regarding dogs in parks
In addition to the shared use hours pilot program, new dedicated off leash areas were constructed at Pacific Street Park in the Cambridgeport neighborhood in 2008 and on a portion of Danehy Park in North Cambridge in 2009.
Since that time there have also been several community meetings specifically to explore establishing off leash use in other parks around the City including at: Longfellow Park in West Cambridge, Joan Lorentz Park in Mid Cambridge and on a portion of Fresh Pond Reservation along Huron Avenue.
In 2013, an Off Leash Working Group of city residents was appointed by the City Manager to work with city staff and the community to formulate recommendations on further improvements that can be made for dogs in parks that are beneficial to all park users. Discussions with staff included topics such as off leash usage trends in City parks, potential modifications or expansion of the current off leash shared use program, exploration of new off leash opportunities, effective signage, amenities in off leash areas, enforcement, communication, and outreach strategies. There were also a series of public meetings throughout the City in winter 2014 on the Working Group’s recommendations in order to get input and feedback from the community.
Some of the key findings from the Working Group were:
- Through geographic analysis of existing open space facilities that allow off leash use; addresses associated with licensed dogs in the City; and observed patterns of off leash use; Mid-Cambridge and Area IV neighborhoods were identified as a priority for additional off leash opportunities.
- Throughout the community process, there was general support for dedicated off leash areas from both dog owners and non-dog owners. However, because there is a limited amount of open space in the City, with increasing demands on use, tradeoffs will need to be considered at any potential new off leash location.
- While walking a dog on-leash is allowed in most public parks during regular park hours it is recognized that there is a desire for additional opportunities for dogs to be off leash in the evening hours. Evening off leash opportunities are more challenging to achieve due to other heavily scheduled uses during certain times of year, including athletics, recreational uses, and school activities; further, the winter months result in shorter park hours, which are typically dawn to dusk.
- The opportunity to interact with other community members was identified as a significant factor in making certain parks attractive to dog owners to have their dogs off leash, regardless of whether the location was actually designated for off leash use.
The recommendations of the Off-Leash Working Group aim to create changes that will, over time, provide a broad network of open spaces that offer opportunities for dogs to be off leash so that all neighborhoods have access to off leash opportunities and no one location is more intensely impacted. The recommendations are meant to work within the parameters of current resources available to the city in terms of enforcement, maintenance, and space, and include both short and long-term approaches to off leash issues in the City. The success of these recommendations will also rely heavily on good communication, education, and responsible park users, both those that own dogs and those that do not.
Click here to view the Off Leash Work Group's recommendations. The final recommendations were submitted to City Council in June 2015.
For More Information
To report irresponsible dog owners, please contact the Animal Commission at (617) 349-4376. The City's Animal Control Officers may be able to place special patrol emphasis at certain parks as needed, in an effort to educate people on existing regulations.
Click here for more information on planning for off leash use in Cambridge parks, or contact Gary Chan at 617/349-4603 or firstname.lastname@example.org.