April 7, 2021

Asking Princetonians to Help Address Problem of Off-Leash Dogs in Parks

To the Editor:

On behalf of Friends of Princeton Open Space (FOPOS), I am writing to ask fellow Princetonians to help address the problem of off-leash dogs in our parks and obey the law, which requires dogs to be leashed at all times when off their owners’ property.  Lest anyone think this letter is written out of anti-dog sentiment, let me say that I and many FOPOS board members are ardent dog lovers. We would love to have a place in Princeton like there is at Skillman Park where dogs could run free. However, that is not the situation currently, and two very sad incidents at the Billy Johnson Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve illustrate how ignoring the law can have serious consequences.

In one, which occurred a couple of years ago, an off-leash dog ran up to a stag, was gored, and died. Its owner was devastated. Quite recently, an off-leash dog seriously injured a dog that was leashed. There have also been a number of incidents in which people who have had past unpleasant encounters with off-leash dogs have had their enjoyment of the park spoiled by encountering them repeatedly on the trails. We know from conversations with the Animal Control Officer that off-leash dogs are a significant problem at other open space parks; it is not just Mountain Lakes.

Being on my fifth in a series of golden retrievers, I am very familiar with the belief that one’s own dog is “friendly” and of no danger to others. That is of course no justification to break the law, but it is not reliably true. If a friendly dog runs up to a not-so-friendly dog, a dog that is very protective of its owner, or a dog that is fearful because it is on-leash and feels like it cannot defend itself, a nasty fracas can ensue. People who are trying to separate fighting dogs can get bitten, with serious consequences for both the person and the biting dog. Violations of the dog leash ordinance also carry hefty fines: $50 for the first offense, and from $100 up to $1,000 for subsequent violations.

Finally, please remember that when you have an off-leash dog problem, call the Animal Control officer and report it. (Animal Control: 609-924-2728; in emergency 609-921-2100 [police dispatch].) 

FOPOS tries to encourage obedience of the law, but it is not our job to enforce it, nor do we have the resources to do so.  Please, fellow Princetonians, be responsible and obey the leash law.

Wendy Mager
President, Friends of Princeton Open Space