BOT discusses permitting dogs in parks

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SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — South Orange is one step closer to lifting the ban on dogs in public parks after the village Board of Trustees unanimously voted to move the ordinance to a second reading at the Aug. 13 meeting.

“We love our dogs in South Orange, it’s evident, and this ordinance I think demonstrates this enthusiasm,” said Trustee Karen Hartshorn Hilton, who has been working on the ordinance for six months.

The ordinance, which proposes to amend and restate the village’s animal code, will allow dogs to be walked in public parks as long as they are on a leash no longer than 6 feet, managed by a person capable of controlling it, and are cleaned up after by the owner.

However, dogs will still be restricted from certain recreation areas, including playgrounds, baseball infields, the pool, and tennis and basketball courts.

“This is a departure,” Hilton said of the amendments. “You can all see in all of our parks, it says ‘no dogs allowed.’ So, I’ll be so happy when we can remove that.”

Yet, she emphasized that these changes will only be possible with “complete compliance from our community.”

To make cleanup easier for local dog owners, the Recreation Committee considered installing bag dispensers in areas where dogs will be permitted, if the ordinance takes effect, but Hilton said that it will not be possible right now due to costs.

“Dog owners, I am pleading with you,” Hilton said at the meeting. “Please comply and please make sure every single time your dog poops, you have to clean it up and dispose of the poop properly.”

The trustees also informed dog owners that, while they should not trespass on private property, they must clean up if their pet accidentally defecates on someone else’s property.

“I truly empathize and I understand completely that sometimes it is out of your control,” village President Sheena Collum said in a Facebook post after the meeting. “What everyone needs to do is reprogram the way they think about someone else’s private property and identify locations that are appropriate and doesn’t presume your neighbors are OK with your fur babies using their lawns as home turf.”

The ordinance also calls for a restriction on retail sales of puppies and kittens other than those sourced from a shelter or rescue organizations, which received great support from residents present at the meeting.

“The amendments that you are having in front of you tonight are safety focused and they are going to create a more safe and humane South Orange,” village resident A.J. Albrecht, an attorney for Best Friends Animal Society, said at the meeting. “It puts us in a place where we can have the community that is animal friendly and dogs are allowed to be in parks … and it makes it so that they are really recognized as part of the family as they are in many of our families.”

Collum expressed support for the provision against the retail sales of pets, which would make South Orange the 107th local government to take action against it, according to Gary Goldberg, a village resident and district leader of The Humane Society.

“It hasn’t impacted South Orange in the past, and who knows if it will in the future,” Collum said. “But I think it’s important for us to join the list of people in demanding accountability and better treatment of animals.”

The second reading of this ordinance is scheduled for the Sept. 10 meeting.

Photos by Kaanita Iyer