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New Off-Leash Program in Works for the Boston Common

New proposal asks dog owners to take a more active role in maintaining the park.

Boston Parks Commissioner Antonia Pollak says the biggest complaint she gets about the Boston Common, outside of the homeless people who hang out there, is unleashed dogs. 

Indeed, in a tightly packed residential area like Beacon Hill, the Common is the only nearby space with enough room for dogs to run – and there are roughly 10,000 of them living downtown. But this practice unleashes not only the dogs, but many neighbors' fury as well.

"It's not balanced now. It's not working," Pollak said at a meeting last week with residents eager to hammer out a new and lasting off-leash policy for the Common.

A city ordinance prohibits dogs from being untethered unless they are in a specified off-leash area. Currently, that area on the Common is below the Joy Street steps and above the Frog Pond during certain times of the day. 

But the land is so worn and soil so compacted from intensive use that it will need to be fenced off and reseeded over the summer while the Friends of the Public Garden works with nearby residents to establish a permanent solution. The group will fund the restoration of that area.

The next step entails designating one or more rotating off-leash areas, and equipping them with signs, dog-waste bag dispensers and trash receptacles. 

And, crucially, the Friends are asking for dog owners' help not just in coordinating the unfenced areas, but in stewarding them, policing them and financing their restoration after a rotation.

"We really are on the cusp of doing this and this is great," Liz Vizza, the executive director of the Friends, said. "We have an opportunity to have a win-win here. And we need to work together to make it work."

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