Town Forest Overrun with Dogs

While there are many such tranquil scenes in the Stow Town Forest, there is a growing controversy brewing over the use of the property by dog owners and dog walkers. A handmade sign (inset) placed at the entrance addresses one of the issues.
Nancy Arsenault

By Nancy Arsenault

The Conservation Commission recently heard a report from Animal Control Officer Susan Latham that suggests the Town Forest conservation area off Bradley Lane is becoming so overrun with loose dogs and professional dog walkers that it may be time to consider more stringent rules for this property.

While dogs, their owners, and professional caretakers all enjoy time to exercise outside in a safe and picturesque environment, their presence is becoming a detriment to the pristine quality of the property, and a deterrent to those who wish to peacefully move throughout the forest, with or without dogs, said Latham. A week ago, Latham was called to the area by a resident there, concerned about the presence of a woman who brings at least 11 dogs at a time, on a daily basis, most times letting the dogs run free along the trails and making no effort to clean up after them. The smallest dog in her pack is a Spaniel with the rest the size of German Shepherds and Labs, according to Latham.

Latham spoke with the professional dog walker, a Marlborough resident, and eventually issued her a citation for not having the dogs under control and not cleaning up after them. The woman became so incensed that Latham had to call in Stow Police to assist with the situation. “She opens the door of her truck, and the dogs just pile out and go running everywhere – after they all do their business in the parking lot,” said Latham.

“She is not the only one. There are many, many professional dog walkers like her who come here every single day,” said Latham, noting that Stow is one of the nearest areas to the more populated eastern communities, with abundant open space and conservation land that these dog walkers are seeking.

According to Latham,  Stow residents, as well, are at fault. “There is one woman who is there with three dogs who doesn’t even know where they are because she just talks on her cell phone the whole time,” said Latham.  “It’s just easier for those kinds of people to come to the Town Forest. At a place like Marble Hill, the parking is far away, and the trails are of a more difficult terrain. You can’t be on those trails and your cell phone at the same time.”

And, like Stow’s Delaney Project Wildlife Management Area, so popular with dog walkers, “The Town Forest is easily accessible, has flat trails and a nice parking lot,” said Latham.  Delaney is the conservation area managed by the Fish & Wildlife Department  that several  years ago instituted a policy of keeping dogs on leashes until they reach a more remote area of the parcel. Walkers there must also clean up after their dogs , including removing the bags that are filled with dog excrement from the property.  It was at the time of the new regulations at Delaney that the dog presence at the Town Forest increased.

At the Town Forest parking lot, small baggies of collected dog feces have been reported to pile up both at the entrance to the property and on the paths.  As of Tuesday, many of them appeared to have been removed, with only a few seen at the trail entrance. There is no trash collector for the town conservation lands and no trash pickup, so these bags pile up if individual’s don’t remove them. “People that have been able to walk here for thirty years are disgusted by this,” said Latham.

Homemade signs have recently been placed at the entrance to the Stow Town Forest asking dog owners utilizing the property to clean up after their dogs.
Nancy Arsenault

Homemade signs have recently been posted on the message board at the trailhead, encouraging dog walkers to clean up after their pets. These signs have most likely been left there by users of the area, according to Stow Conservation Commission Administrator Pat Perry.

“I think it may be time to consider something specific for the Town Forest,” said Susan Latham. “I know it may be hard to enforce. We can’t be hiding behind trees, but there has to be more than just a control law down there.”

The Conservation Commission was reluctant to support an across-the-board regulation regarding dogs without doing further investigation of the situation at the Town Forest.  They suggested that a permit program geared specifically to professional dog walkers may be an option for more stringent control, and is a policy used by other towns. They also plan to speak with the police about patrolling the area and informing users of the existing “under control” policy for loose dogs and the reminders about cleaning up after dogs, while also backing up Latham in any face-face enforcement matters.