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Hagerstown residents don't muzzle their opinions on dog park

May 09, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- Neighbors of a proposed off-leash dog park turned out in force at a community forum Thursday to argue the proposed Mills Park site does not have adequate space, parking or access to support a dog park.

Hagerstown officials organized the forum to gather input on an idea to build two fenced enclosures in Mills Park where owners could exercise and socialize their dogs off-leash. More than 30 people attended the forum, including at least five supporters of the proposal.

Rych Pullen, president of the Hagerstown Area Dog Owner's Group, which has been working with the city on the proposal, said the park would benefit the community because dogs that are well-exercised and well-socialized are quieter and less aggressive. He said his research on other dog parks has shown they practically run themselves as owners pressure each other to clean up after their dogs and stay current on vaccinations.

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Pullen said based on the national average, there are probably about 9,300 dogs in Hagerstown, yet there are only two public areas where dogs are allowed, and even there, they must remain on a leash.

The pressure to build an off-leash dog park in Hagerstown is increasing as the downtown area grows more residential and people move to the city from areas that have dog parks, like Montgomery County, Washington County Humane Society executive director Paul Miller said.

Hagerstown Parks Superintendent Junior Mason said the Mills Park location off of Belview Avenue was suggested because it was relatively underutilized, had parking and was not surrounded by residential neighborhoods.

However, residents of Belview Avenue pointed out that their residential street would provide the only vehicle access to the park and there are less than a dozen parking spaces available.

"We can't have any more traffic," resident Betsy Harbaugh said. "We put up with a lot of that, and we don't need to increase it."

Other residents argued the dog park would take play space away from the neighborhood's children. Belview resident Donna Sword pointed to language in the park's original deed that says it may be used only for "family-oriented activities."

Washington County Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire suggested better locations would be the former softball fields in City Park, which would provide about 100 parking spaces, or the underutilized soccer field at Marty Snook Park.

Regardless of location, some at the meeting worried over how dawn-to-dusk hours and vaccination requirements would be enforced.

One proponent, Simone Borger, said that a dog park she belonged to in Louisville, Ky., solved that issue by having dog owners register for electronic key cards and issuing dogs brightly colored tags to indicate they had been vaccinated.

Pat Miller, a professional dog trainer and behavior consultant, said concerns about cleanliness, safety and noise were somewhat unwarranted.

"Any place you look to put in a park, you get the not-in-my-backyard syndrome," Miller said. "Typically, people in that area come to realize those concerns are somewhat overblown."

However, Miller did agree the proposed enclosures at Mills Park, which would be less than one acre, were too small.

Hagerstown Community Development Coordinator Cindy Blackstock said she would take the feedback back to the City Council for consideration.

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