Government Opinion South Orange

OPINION: Compromise — Not Dominance — Builds a Stronger Community

To the editors:

South Orange Trustees recently tabled the Puppy Mill ordinance to reconsider language allowing leashed dogs to walk, defecate and urinate in all parks. I applaud Trustees Deborah Davis Ford, Howard Levison and Mark Rosner for leading these efforts to compromise so that all residents can enjoy our parks. These Trustees did so to strengthen our community — not because they dislike dogs or object to dogs in parks.

This is not a zero-sum issue. We can create doggy friendly areas in larger parks and preserve smaller parks heavily frequented by children as many other U.S. towns and cities have done.

Compromise will strengthen our community by allowing people with varied backgrounds to enjoy public parks. A diverse committee of residents (including, but not limited to, people with young children and without dogs, seniors, people with disabilities, people of color, etc.) should help draft this compromise.

If you think we can compromise and allow all of South Orange’s diverse community to enjoy our parks, please email our Trustees.

Facts in an alt-news kind of world

We have no idea how many residents support the provision and how many would compromise. Proponents claim overwhelming majority status based on a now closed Facebook poll taken by 419 people out of over 16,300 South Orange residents. Most governments do not claim a mandate based on support from less than 2% of the population. Many, including me, did not know about this poll. Proponents also selectively use social media and ignore dozens of posts from residents. A supporter dismissed dissenters by posting, “The minority has just gotten more vocal.”

Voting should not be limited to one social media outlet. Trustee Davis Ford suggested a referendum question or using the Master Plan process designed to solicit each resident’s opinion on numerous issues.

Minority voices and experiences matter.

Even if supporters are the majority, minority voices matter – especially when considering public spaces. Leadership says to trust the “goodwill” of dog owners. This is difficult. Many dog owners minimize the frequency of bad behavior. Social media shows numerous stories of people finding dog poop on their property and in their garbage/recycling totes. When we ask neighbors to stop, we have been ignored, cursed at, sustained retaliatory property damage (including poop in a mail slot), and more.

Many dog owners claim their dogs are entitled to poop on everyone’s lawns. (Extra Newsfeed published my piece examining this entitlement.) South Orange Village President Sheena Collum received online attacks for stating that this is trespassing.

The Vocal Minority has received harsh treatment. Some dog owners called us bad parents, unneighborly, stupid, anti-dog, cruel, etc. Many people wrote me fearing to stand against the provision because they don’t want to be attacked. If you want us to rely on goodwill, we need to see more of it.

Why I can’t roll over and play dead.

At the most recent South Orange Village Board of Trustees meeting, a nurse and animal lover testified to support preserving green spaces because young children roll in and lick the grass, leaving them vulnerable. We also need to acknowledge that some children and adults have allergies and/or fear dogs.

Public streets also pose problems. Starting from my daughter’s earliest weeks, dog owners allowed leashed and unleashed dogs to charge and climb on her stroller. When we asked them to stop, we received anger and criticism. Parks became a refuge.

If some green grassy space is not preserved here, people like me will not be able to bring our children to any public parks. 

Seeds of growth

Compromise is often not easy or quick. But, it is critical to good governance.

The provision needs improvement. VP Collum noted that the current ban is rarely enforced, but a new policy will be. How? Residents should not be responsible for policing other residents.

Without a plan for enforcement, Trustees cannot know this policy’s costs. Many questions need answers. For example, since the police do not want to be on poop patrol, which municipal department will do so? Without clear and understandable pooper-scooper laws, what will they enforce? Will the town need to hire personnel? Are there health or safety costs?

I have drafted legislation in the U.S. and internationally. Governments always considered the costs of implementing and enforcing proposed policies before voting.

Why the rush to dominate?

This ordinance has moved quickly. I have advocated on many local issues, including urgent matters. None of them have moved from conception to passage in six months. Why now?

Some dog owners reject compromise because wild animals poop. However, governments routinely pass laws monitoring domesticated animals. And as one dog owner asked at the Board of Trustees meeting, why do we want to add more poop to our parks?

Trustees Davis Ford, Levison and Rosner proposed a compromise of allowing dogs on existing paved pathways. A dog owner rejected this idea saying that dogs confined to specific areas can get diseases from dog and other animal poop. When I expressed similar concerns for children, I received harsh criticism.

Moving forward.

We choose to live and raise our families differently. Gluten free. Carnivore. Vegan. My husband and I chose not to have an animal in our home with a small child. Others chose to do so. They also chose to live where dogs are not allowed in parks.

Can’t we reach a compromise to allow for diversity of thinking and living in our public parks?

Thank you,

Dr. Ahadi Bugg-Levine

From Ahadi Bugg-Levine: “My daughter and her “Gram” having fun in Farrell Field park where my daughter likes to swing As she grows older, she would love to run around the grass in some of South Orange’s parks.”

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