Government South Orange

South Orange Looking to Allow Dogs in Parks

A dog in Maplewood’s Memorial Park during Green Day event, 2016.

A ban on dogs into South Orange public parks may soon be lifted.

South Orange’s newest Trustee, Karen Hilton, is leading the pack to amend local law and allow for dogs in parks — albeit on leashes.

“The current local law essentially bans dogs from all of our public parks,” wrote Hilton in a message to Village Green. “The policy has never made sense to me.”

The Trustees discussed the possible new rules at their regular meeting on April 23.

“I am not an objective person in this.” began Hilton, who owns two dogs and says she “might love them almost more than my four children.”

“When I came into office, one of the first things I wanted to work on was dogs in parks,” said Hilton. True to her word, she’s been working with the Recreation Committee to hash out potential changes — she noted that there are many factors to consider including public health, public safety, enforcement and economic impact.

One question: to leash or not to leash. After many months, Hilton said the committee came to the resolution that allowing dogs in parks would still require dogs to be on leashes “with certain exceptions.”

Hilton said that the Recreation Committee is proposing changes that would allow people to have dogs restrained on leashes and obligated to pick up waste in public parks. She said that the Recreation Committee wanted dogs prohibited from places where children are actively playing — such a basketball courts, the pool area and playgrounds.

Something harder to decide — should dogs be allowed in parks during events? While the combination of children and food and dogs at such events could be “an accident waiting to happen” for some dogs, Hilton noted that other dogs were well-behaved in such environments. Hilton said that she was working with the health department and the police department to sort out issues.

Trustee Walter Clarke said that it could be difficult to define some areas of active play as some playing fields have multiple purposes. He also noted that some events were “trickier” as they were more passive and day-long — such as River Day — with “no defined borders” and with people coming and going over long periods of time.

Village President Sheena Collum, whose dogs Kimchi and Chico are familiar to her Facebook followers, voiced her support for allowing dogs on leashes in parks. “I tend to believe the majority of people in SOMA are good dog owners.” She also noted, “Right now, if we are honest, [the ban] is not enforced. [Dogs in parks is] already existing.” Collum also noted the lack of dog-related complaints filed by residents of South Orange.

Collum said that the Township would nonetheless check with its attorney and risk managers.

Regarding allowing dogs in parks during events, Village Counsel Steve Rother told Trustees, “You are actually less liable by permitting dogs.”

Hilton agreed to take the feedback of the Trustees back to Rother for review and present language for Trustees to review at one of their meetings in May.

“Our residents love their pets,” Hilton told Village Green, “and we want to make sure we have an effective and safe policy for dog walking in our community.”

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