Southold group pushing for new dog park

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Dawn Bennett (background) is part of a group of Southold dog lovers pushing for a bigger dog park in town so pooches like Dougal (foreground) can play.

Dog lovers in Southold are forming a pack to prod the Town Board into creating a new, larger dog park.

There’s one small dog park now in Southold, created nearly a decade ago behind the town Recreation Center on Peconic Lane. But dog trainer Dawn Bennett thinks it’s too small to call a park.

“It’s really more of a dog run,” said Ms. Bennett, co-owner of North Fork School for Dogs, who has circulated a petition to gather support for a new park. As of last Friday, she said, more than 350 people had signed it.

She said she had heard from dog owners that the park has been underused, in part because many owners worry about sharing it with dogs from the animal shelter across the street. They might have behavior problems, she explained.

“We’re at the real beginning stages and we’re causing a little stir,” she said. “But we want input. We can’t ask for something until we know there’s a need … Are we a large enough community to support a dog park?”

Ms. Bennett and other dog lovers recently formed a group called the North Fork Canine Council, which is advocating for the park. She had felt initially that an ideal site would have at least three acres, but said the group now would be willing to work with the town on any size site. “We need to be realistic,” she said. “We’re not Holtsville. We’re not Brookhaven. We’re a small town.”

She said dog owners would like the town to consider using some of the four acres behind the Peconic School building, recently acquired for use as a new community center. It could be used for a park for larger dogs, Ms. Bennett said, if small dogs continued to use the park behind the Recreation Center next door.

Supervisor Scott Russell said this week that he and the Town Board were willing to discuss the concept with Ms. Bennett and her group at an upcoming work session. But three acres behind the Peconic School, he said, may be more than the town can spare, due primarily to restrictions on the uses allowed on properties purchased with public money. Also, that land is currently used for a Boy Scout car show and other public events.

“We’d like to keep it in the public realm,” Mr. Russell said.

Some other potential sites, he said, were problematic because they were purchased in partnership with other government agencies that would need to sign off on the plan. Some were bought by the town through its Community Preservation Fund and might not be available for a dog park, depending on the reason they were acquired.

The supervisor said that once potential sites were identified, he would likely ask the town’s land preservation committee for feedback on whether or not a dog park would be an appropriate use.

In the meantime, he said, dog lovers can use the town’s hiking trails, which he said are pet-friendly.

Ms. Bennett said she hoped to arouse enough interest to help fund fencing and beautification for a new park or perhaps to help to upgrade the park behind the recreation Center.

She suggested that dog owners could apply for “Pooch Passes” from the town that would certify their dogs were licensed and their shots up to date. She said the fee for the pass could pay for the maintenance of the park. A park that uses that model has been successful in Middle Island, she added.

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