Town Has Bone to Pick with Some Dog Owners

April 12, 2024
• Needham Park and Recreation and Parks and Forestry shared concerns regarding dog waste disposal, off-leash dogs and repeated rule violations.

Soon after she assumed her role as director of Park and Recreation in March 2020, Stacey Mulroy would arrive at work at the Rosemary Recreation Complex and be greeted by both coworkers and bags of dog poop at the front door.

At the height of the pandemic, abandoned poop bags at her office were a regular occurrence, Mulroy said, and while that stopped about two years ago, dog waste is still a problem in town — it’s just moved elsewhere.

“People have been consistently bad at picking up their dog feces and disposing it correctly,” Mulroy said.

At recess, children are encountering dog poop in the grass fields, Mulroy and Park Ranger Wu Ping Liao said, which poses an additional safety hazard, and dog owners are releasing their pets in playgrounds. The schools have shared complaints with the town on the matter, Mulroy said.

The town bylaws enforce removal of dog waste, reading, in part: “No person shall leave or dispose of said feces in any catch basin, drainage structure, waterway or on any public property or street except in a trash receptacle.”

The park ranger circulates the town’s facilities to educate and, when necessary, enforces rules around dogs, but there’s only so much he can do.

“He’s only one person and cannot cover all hours at our facilities,” Mulroy said.

A No Dogs sign outside of Memorial Park in Needham. (Cameron Morsberger)

Dogs are restricted from both Memorial Park and DeFazio Park, as per the bylaws, but that doesn’t stop some residents and their pets from frequenting the areas. Liao said he’s seen the same people bring their dogs to both parks, as well as take their dogs off leash at other town spaces.

Mills Field in particular is “a very hot spot” for off-leash dogs, Liao said. He recalls one woman continued to take her dog off its leash after six separate warnings, he said, the last of which resulted in Liao calling the Needham Police Department.

Mornings at Perry Park are also crowded with pooches, Liao said.

“Do you know how many dogs were in the field off the leash? Fifteen,” Liao said of a recent day at Perry Park.

When he confronts residents about the rules, Liao is met with finger-pointing and excuses, he said.

“Some people are not that nice… I have a lot of people talk to me and say, ‘Oh, I pay the tax, I can do anything I want,’” Liao said.

Though the bylaw was established long before Ed Olsen’s time, he said he sees why dogs would specifically be barred from Memorial — it’s a sacrosanct space honoring veterans. Olsen, superintendent of Parks and Forestry, said DeFazio is a shared community and athletic area that shouldn’t be contaminated by dog urine and feces.

Olsen said it’s less about residents misunderstanding the rules and more about their “apathy,” general laziness and entitlement.

“I’ve seen dog fights, I’ve seen people get bitten by dogs in the field, and this is all on properties where it’s forbidden to have dogs,” Olsen said. “It’s not even allowed, [but] these things are still happening every weekend… It shouldn’t be a practice that we see all too frequently in this community of people that feel entitled to bring their pet everywhere they go.”

Parks and Forestry staff step in dog excrement in town fields “every day,” Olsen said.

“There’s nothing in humanity that is more disgusting than stepping into a pile of dog crap and having to find a stick and get it out of the soles of your shoes so you don’t track them into your own home,” he said. “So, I think on so many visceral levels, it’s gross out there right now, and the behavior is out of control every day, everywhere.”

Dogs at DeFazio and Memorial can also damage the turf field — dog urine can leave dead, yellow spots in the turf, Olsen added. Under the new fee structure approved at the Special Town Meeting in October, those who bring their dog to either park would face a fine of $100 per offense. Failure to adequately dispose of pet waste would also result in a $100 fine under the policy change.

Needham’s Director of Communications and Community Engagement Amy Haelsen reminded residents in a recent newsletter that dogs are not allowed, leashed or not, at either Memorial or DeFazio. The Trustees of Memorial Park shared their concerns with the town, prompting the reminder.

Proper disposal of dog waste is important, Mulroy said, as it could pose an environmental risk to stormwater drains in the long term.

“We want to make sure people are disposing of their dog poop bags in receptacles,” Mulroy said, “not at the end of the trail.”

While many residents may turn a blind eye to dog restrictions, Olsen said Needhamites should care about shared spaces.

“This whole thing appeals to common courtesy and respect for rules and appreciation for each other,” Olsen said. “And if we could all do that, the whole world would be a better place.”

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