Maplewood Residents Debate Dogs in Parks On and Off Leash

South Orange and Maplewood residents who are taking a break from the interwebs this past week have missed another viral local kerfuffle. This time it’s the umpteenth thread — beginning years ago on MaplewoodOnline and raging recently on Facebook — on dogs in parks on and off leash.

One thread on SOMA Lounge began by berating the off-leashers. They are, after all, breaking the law. Specifically, Maplewood Code, Chapter 113, Article II, Section 113-12: “No person owning, keeping or harboring any dog shall suffer or permit it to be upon the public streets or in any of the public places of the Township unless such dog is securely confined and controlled by an adequate leash not more than six feet long.”

This regulation governs parks in Maplewood such as Memorial, DeHart, Orchard, Borden, and Maplecrest.

However, many locals also like to walk with their dogs off-leash in the 2,110 acres of South Mountain Reservation, drawing the most ire for many posters online. The Reservation — which covers parts of Maplewood, Millburn and West Orange — is governed by Essex County, which disallows “unleashed dogs except in designated areas.” That designated area in South Mountain Reservation is a two-acre fenced-in dog park near the park’s playground on Crest Drive: 1.3 acres constitute a large-dog run; a 0.7-acre area is for small dogs.

Despite the opening of the dog park in 2006, many local dog owners continue to defend the practice of walking their dogs off leash in the trails in the reservation, with most saying that they leash the dogs again when they approach others in the park or walk in paved areas.

“For runners (and also for people with leashed dogs), this is particularly difficult,” began one thread on the Facebook group SOMA Lounge. “Even if it’s a ‘friendly dog,’ if you’re coming around a bend and there’s an unleashed dog, that dog might view you as a threat.” The thread garnered scores of comments and became contentious at times, with some locals unnerved that fellow citizens wanted to so “flagrantly” break the law and others saying that pro-leashers wanted to live in a “sanitized police state.”

Lee Navlen, former candidate for Maplewood Township Committee and sometime web series comedian/actor, posted a counter thread on his own page, somewhat tongue in cheek, defending those who like to walk their dogs off leash. Navlen and other dog owners said that they are daily users of the park who have contributed to its safety and upkeep and argued that those complaining use the park infrequently. Wrote Navlen, “Most of them who scream and yell go to the reservation at noon on the weekend once every two years, see a dog, hobble to their computer and rant about the dog they saw.” (Navlen gave Village Green permission to quote him.)

Another thread on SOMA Lounge began by suggesting a potential armistice: special off-leash hours such as those instituted in portions of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. According to the Prospect Park Alliance, “Offleash hours are permitted from 5 am–9 am and 9 pm – 1 am at the Long Meadow (except ballfields), Nethermead and Peninsula. To protect wildlife habitats, dogs must always be leashed and stay on paths in wooded areas.”

This suggestion seems unlikely to sway Maplewood Health Officer Robert Roe, who says that although he is “not aware of any recent dog bites or attacks in the Reservation, I am against allowing dogs off leash in any of the parks or public places. I know people do this, but I do not think it is safe or sanitary. Note that South Orange does not allow dogs in the parks at all.”

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