No Dogs! No No No!

Trav and sign #1

So last December the West Tisbury Parks and Recreation committee threw up a NO DOGS sign on the new public basketball court near the West Tisbury School. Trav and I had been using it a few mornings a week for short, five- to ten-minute off-leash training sessions. The court had several advantages: it’s within a half mile of where I live, it’s securely fenced and gated, and when we were there — usually before 8 a.m. — there was never anyone playing or practicing basketball.

I went to a Parks & Rec meeting to see if they’d lift the ban on dogs and let Trav and me do our thing there when no one was shooting baskets. No way.

I went back to using the tennis court, which is right next to the basketball court and has all the same advantages. I’d been using it without incident since the fall of 2009; I only started using the basketball court because the tennis court is padlocked in the summer and last summer the newly built basketball court wasn’t. In December, Parks & Rec had only come up with two reasons for NO DOGS that held any water at all: (1) that the court was brand-new (what if my dog pooped on it??), and (2) that if people saw me and Trav training there, pretty soon everybody else would want to do likewise.

Tennis, anyone?

Neither reason applied to the tennis court. (1) The tennis court is in crappy shape, and (2) in the nearly three years that I’ve been using it, people have not been queuing up to use it with their dogs. Tennis players aren’t queueing up to use it either, even in the off-season, when the gate is unlocked and no fee is charged. When someone does show up to play tennis, Trav and I are outta there: it is a tennis court, after all, and we can come back anytime.

Well, until yesterday we could come back anytime. Yesterday this sign went up on the tennis court.

Since I’ve yet to see anyone biking, skateboarding, or rollerblading on the tennis court, and Trav is the only dog I’ve seen there in months, I assume that the sign’s primary purpose is to keep me from training Trav on the tennis court.

Why? Good question. We always make way for tennis players. In nearly three years we haven’t damaged anything: the surface and the nets are deteriorating without anyone’s help. (I do pick up trash that other people leave behind, but since the court is so rarely used, this doesn’t amount to much.) No one has ever questioned my presence there — not to my face, anyway — but I have had plenty of conversations about dogs and dog training with people who’ve stopped to watch us.

It’s a good question for other reasons too. As noted in “Dogged,” which I posted earlier this month, tensions have been running high in town where dogs are concerned, especially about dogs on Lambert’s Cove Beach, dogs killing livestock, and unrestrained dogs in general. Travvy is an Alaskan malamute, a breed noted for its prey drive, and Travvy’s prey drive runs strong. We’ve got free-ranging fowl in my neighborhood, not to mention cats, so when we go out Travvy is either on-leash or attached to the Springer that’s clamped onto my bicycle.

Trav and I compete in Rally obedience. (See “Rally Off-Island” for more about “Rally-O.”) Although I’m very new to dog training and Alaskan malamutes are not noted for their aptitude for obedience, we’ve been having modest success in off-island competition and in Cyber Rally-O, an ingenious Rally venue where you set up a prescribed course, video yourself and your dog doing it, and submit the video for judging. At the level we’re at, all competition is off-leash. You see where I’m going with this? I rent. I don’t have a fenced-in yard. Securely fenced areas and large indoor spaces are very hard to come by on Martha’s Vineyard.

The tennis court was perfect: secure, big enough, usually vacant, and (icing on the cake) close to where I live.

And now it’s no dogs allowed.

Yes, we could work off-leash in an unfenced area. Eighty, 85, maybe even 90 percent of the time Trav would be fine. I, however, would be a nervous wreck. One rustle in the underbrush, a rabbit, squirrel, cat, or skunk, and he’d be gone. His reflexes are much better than mine. And when I’m uneasy, Trav picks up on it and wonders what’s so scary; he becomes hyper-aware of every sound and smell around him.

I want to continue training and competing with my dog. I’m trying to be a responsible dog owner. Parks and Rec is making this very difficult.

And for no good reason.

Don’t panic — this was taken before the sign went up.

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About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has two blogs going on WordPress. "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories" is about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard. "Write Through It" is about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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16 Responses to No Dogs! No No No!

  1. Hal Davis says:

    Lord knows how public records law works in Massachusetts. Are they invoking the same two (2) reasons for the new ban? How did they articulate the reasons for extending the ban? Are there any documents that would spell out their reasoning? Complaints from other members of the public? If so, are the documents accessible? I realize they may be “jumpy but well-meaning people who are making bad decisions.” They are also public officials who should be acting reasonably.

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    • So far they haven’t publicly articulated any reasons: they just did it. Their reasons are probably buried in the minutes of their meetings. I want to bring it up at a board of selectmen’s meeting. ideally the ban will be lifted and the sign removed, but if nothing else Parks & Rec’s reasons will then be in the public record. Parks & Rec has a history of listening to anonymous complainers without giving the targets of the complaints a chance to respond. This is a big reason the beach access issue has become so contentious.

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  2. jo says:

    interesting that this happened right after you filed to run for local office.

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    • It’s more interesting that it happened 10 days after I spoke critically about Parks & Rec’s position at the special town meeting. 😉 I don’t think they’re that vindictive, though. Short-sighted, yes, but not vindictive.

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  3. susan robinson says:

    My prejudiced assumption is they love the power surge it gives them to make unreasonable demands and get away with it.

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  4. Ned says:

    Oh, Susanna! Do you really expect government — any government — to be reasonable. I don’t mean do you think they should be; I mean do you think they are!

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    • One huge advantage of living in a small town with town meeting government (there’s that word again!) is that it makes it harder to slide into abstractions like “government.” I see Parks & Rec less as “government” and more as several jumpy but well-meaning people who are making bad decisions (my case isn’t the only one) because they’re scared, defensive, and/or pissed off.

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  5. Jel says:

    I think they’re just afraid that other people with dogs will start using the court too if they see you there and the others may not be as responsible as you are. Believe me, I’m on your side and have used fenced in baseball fields on occasion with my own dog.

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  6. In our neighborhood, citizens took over an underused public area for a dog park. Private contributions helped, but so did the political reality that there were more dog owners than hockey/broomball players interested in using the space. (Dogs also tend to create more problems when they’re running free than hockey players do.)

    It’s now a highly used dog park instead of a severely underused hockey rink. The problem seems to be that the space is defined as a tennis court, even though it isn’t being used that way any more.

    If I were you, I’d stop taking it personally and organize dog owners, whether it’s to assume care of the former courts or to find a new space. It can be done.

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  7. dabodog says:

    When I lived in Lexington, MA, a group of dog owners arranged use of a local softball field for early AM dog runs. It was near the bike path, an ice arena, and a park. A “pick-up” agreement insured no leavings left and the owners policed themselves. No softball games played between 6-7 AM… EVER.

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    • We’ve got places for running dogs. That’s not what I’m looking for. I need secure fencing so Travvy can’t run. I think that my use of the tennis court is totally compatible with tennis players’ use of the court (the tennis players I’ve talked to coming and going seem to think so too), but Parks & Rec seems determined that this not be considered a multi-use area. 😦

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      • There is a tennis court next to the fenced dog park I mentioned. I see a woman there with her dog doing what you’re doing. Rarely any tennis players. The dog parks are too chaotic if you’ve got a very particular training mission in mind. Seems like a multi-use designation might be the way to go

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  8. Anda Divine says:

    I’m so glad I got to meet Trav last month. He has astonishing presence and very clearly a mind of his own. This makes your words even more fraught: “Yes, we could work off-leash in an unfenced area. Eighty, 85, maybe even 90 percent of the time Trav would be fine. I, however, would be a nervous wreck.”

    Did you happen to notice it when, after you had been schlepping me-the-tourist all around MV for a fairly long time with Trav in the back seat of your car and you and I yakkety-yakking up front, he put his (very large) left paw on my left shoulder and tugged HARD, as if to say “Enough already!”? What a character!

    I hope you and other owners who are serious about training their dogs can find a safe and legal accommodation. Is there a dog park on MV yet? You’d probably have to use it at dawn…

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    • You were sitting in his seat: in exchange, he wanted to be part of the conversation. 😉

      There’s a well-used dog park, at the old Tradewinds air strip in Oak Bluffs, but we don’t go there. It’s an uncontrolled situation, there’s no perimeter fencing, and Farm Neck golf course is right next door. Not a place for training, and not a place for a northern-breed dog with a high prey drive.

      The number of people doing serious training on the Vineyard is very small, and the ones I know don’t want to rock any boats. 😦

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  9. Jel says:

    Sad, but a few irresponsible owners make people understandably nervous and consequently everybody suffers. Hope you find another more hospitable training area.

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    • But here there are no other owners involved, irresponsible or otherwise. We’re not talking Lambert’s Cove Beach here. We’re talking about one person and one dog, and no reported problems in almost three years. If they’re nervous, I don’t think it’s understandable at all.

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