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Pit bulls, smoking banned from dog park

July 30, 2011

PAWTUCKET — As with training a new puppy, the Pawtucket Dog Park in Slater Park is undergoing some trial and error. Yet, city officials say the facility is proving to be successful overall and believe that some recent problems and complaints are being addressed.
To that end, new signage has been added that notifies dog park patrons that, per city ordinance, there is no smoking allowed and that no pit bulls are allowed anywhere within the city limits.
While the dog park is outside, it is part of Slater Park which, as a city-owned recreational facility, falls under the rules that prohibit smoking in “public spaces,” according to the City Clerk's office.
The park opened in June with much fanfare and was immediately embraced by people and their pets. On any given day, and particularly on weekends, both the large and small sections of the park can be found in use, with canines having the chance to romp and socialize, and their owners the opportunity to chat and mingle or just relax on a nearby bench.
While the response has been mostly positive, there have been some issues surrounding the use of the park, which city officials agreed to open on a one-year trial basis. Complaints have surfaced about dog owners not picking up after their dogs, engaging in smoking and leaving cigarette butts in and around the fenced area. Others have reported there being a seemingly large number of pit bulls at the park, even though a Pawtucket ordinance bans the breed from being in the city except for those pit bulls that are licensed by the city and muzzled.
On July 3, according to city officials, a three-year-old child was bitten on the arm outside the dog park by a Chihuahua belonging to another pet owner. The child had reportedly asked to hold the unknown woman's dog, and was then bitten. The child wasn't severely injured, but the parents were later advised by a doctor to undergo rabies treatment as a precaution since the rabies vaccination status of the dog could not be determined.
On a smaller scale, there have been some dog fights, but this has mostly occurred while the canines were chasing after a ball or a toy—something prohibited in the posted park rules.
Interim Parks and Recreation Superintendent John Blais is optimist that with a small amount of tweaking of the rules, and some better cooperation from those who use the facility, most of these problems will be solved.
On the clean-up matter, Blais said the park will continue to supply plastic bags, referred to as “mutt mitts,” from a dispenser at the park. These, he said, are being paid for entirely by the volunteer Pawtucket Dog Park Committee and its fund raising efforts and not by taxpayer dollars.
One city resident, Lewis Soares, had written a letter recently to The Times and other local newspapers saying that the city should eliminate the bags so dog owners would be forced to bring their own. He suggested that many dog owners had become dependent on the mutt mitts, so when the dispensers are empty, they are caught short and leave the dog mess behind.
Blais said, however, that the Pawtucket Dog Park Committee intends to keep supplying the mutt mitts as funding allows, and said he thinks that a majority of pet owners end up bringing their own bags anyway. “There is some abuse, with people taking them for their personal use. But we want people to understand that we put them there as a convenience.” He added that because of the cost of the bags, residents are encouraged to bring their own disposal bags as much as possible.
Soares, explaining that he was an overall proponent of the dog park, also wrote that smoking should be prohibited and that signage should be posted saying no pit bulls allowed (except those legally licensed by the city and muzzled). Blais said that plans for these signs were already in the works and were installed at about the same time the letters were published.
Blais said he thinks many of the pit bulls seen at the park belong to owners from neighboring communities where the breed is allowed. He thinks there has been some misunderstanding about the fact that pit bulls are not allowed anywhere in the city, without regard to where their owner lives. The only exception are those pit bulls who were owned legally prior to the enactment of the city ordinance and are allowed under “grandfathered” status.
In addition to the new signage, Blais said he wants to publicize the fact that no balls or dog toys are allowed inside the dog park. This, he said, is one of the rules most frequently ignored, as dog owners want to be able to bring items that their dog can run and fetch. However, he said the balls and toys have usually been at the root of the dog fights that have occurred, especially during the recent heat. “It's no different from a daycare and two kids are fighting over a toy,” noted Blais.
Another problem that surfaced in the recent heat was people bringing dog bowls and then leaving them behind. While he knows that people mean well in providing water for pets, he said any type of communal use of bowls could spread an illness or disease. “These are just common sense things, really,” noted Blais.
All in all, Blais said he thinks the problems and complaints have been minor and that the positive feedback from residents has far outweighed the negative. He added that Animal Control staffers frequently drive by the dog park and are always available to address any kind of complaint or situation.
As to the recent dog bite incident, Douglas Hadden, director of constituent services and communications for the Grebien Administration, said one of the biggest concerns was that the offending dog's owner got in her car and hastily left the scene after the incident without giving the child's parents any information on the dog's vaccination history. “She left so fast that the parents couldn't even get her license number to try to contact her,” Hadden said. “That was really irresponsible.”
According to a report, Hadden said the child had been bitten on July 3 and the parents did not seek medical attention at that time because the bite was not severe. However, three days later in a separate incident, the child was injured in a fall and was taken to a hospital. At that time, the parents mentioned the dog bite and a doctor recommended that the child undergo rabies treatment as a precaution.
Hadden said that the incident had been brought to the attention of Mayor Donald Grebien and had also been discussed with the city solicitor. He said that while the park is designed to be “self-policing,” the administration remains concerned about public safety and suggests any incidents be reported to Animal Control located in the Wildenhain Animal Shelter in Slater Park or the Pawtucket Police.


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