News Feature

The Island & The Peninsula
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, September 22, 2022
Why leashing isn’t optional
Reasons behind the rules for dog-friendly shared spaces

by Maggie White

“One thing that people with off-leash dogs don’t always consider is that dogs on leash do not respond well to being approached by a dog off leash, no matter how the dog behaves in other situations. That’s the majority of dogs and that’s something people don’t realize,” said Whitney Thurston, a Blue Hill-based dog trainer in a recent interview.

Thurston’s comment sheds light on why both the Blue Hill Heritage Trust and the Island Heritage Trust have leash rules in the public spaces under their respective stewardship.

On-leash, off-leash and dog-free options

“Unfortunately, we get many, many reports of people—especially those on Blue Hill Mountain—where people are allowing their dogs off leash. We know sometimes people have dogs who do well off leash, who respond to their owners, but the point is that we have rules to follow,” said BHHT Development Director Chrissy Allen.

She added that they do have a few properties where off-leash dogs are permitted. In fact, at BHHT, they have three branches of trails. “Most of our trails invite dogs, on leash, to be with their owners. We have maybe two properties where we don’t allow dogs at all. Then we have a few properties where dogs can be off leash, where they can really run around and get a good workout,” said Allen.

BHHT areas that allow dogs off leash include Penny’s Preserve in Blue Hill and Surry Forest and Meadowbrook Forest in Surry. IHT does not currently have any properties allowing dogs off leash, though most welcome dogs on leash.

Site-specific rules

Because preserve-specific dog rules vary, visitors are encouraged to consult the Blue Hill Peninsula Trail Guide 2022 and/or the BHHT and IHT websites before visiting a property with a dog. There is signage at each property as well.

As for why some spaces allow dogs and some do not, Alex Drenga, stewardship director at IHT, said that the reasoning ranges from the philosophical and emotional to the ecological and environmental. “Not everyone has the same feelings towards animals and we want to be sensitive,” said Drenga. “We want to be mindful of people’s differing feelings about dogs—that is one reason. Then there is the ecological impact as well: having dogs on our trails can negatively affect the environment and other animals in that area.”

Drenga went on to explain that canine rules at a particular property are sometimes in place before IHT acquires the land and can be a stipulation of the deal. Drenga cited Deer Isle’s Scott’s Landing Preserve as one such property. “At Scott’s Landing, we’re not allowed to have dogs so as to not disturb the environment, specifically, the birds nesting there.”

Because of this, Drenga indicated that IHT puts effort into providing options. “So maybe you are disappointed that you drove 20 minutes and you find out that you can’t have your dog on Scott’s, but look at the signage and you’ll see another place close by where you can have your dog. In that case, there is Causeway Beach right across the street, and you can have your dog on leash there.”

Community considerations

It’s in our own best interest to follow leash laws, according to Diana Logan, dog trainer in North Yarmouth. “Our privileges to access off-leash destinations are eroding, little by little, due in part to the fact that we don’t always follow leash laws,” said Logan.

Both Thurston and Logan stressed that many owners of well-behaved, well-trained and/or friendly dogs inadvertently forget to consider people and canines on the other side of the equation. “There are a lot of people who don’t like dogs. And because we have dogs, we are affecting so many people beyond our own yards, our own property. Even if your dog is not causing someone else harm, at the very least you have to consider that you might be giving them discomfort. And you have to respect that,” said Logan.

Following leash rules means that people can select the destination where the rules best align with what they find personally comfortable. “We try to diversify the use of our preserves so everyone has the opportunity to be outside in a place where they feel safe,” said Drenga, again adding that different rules make sense for different areas.

Respecting the rules

“There are many, many people who think rules do not apply to them. If it’s an on-leash area, all dogs are required to be on a leash. There’s a real problem with the mindset of ‘Oh, that’s not for me; my dog does not need a leash.’ They are not considering the people, the other dogs and the wildlife that they are affecting with that choice,” said Thurston.

The intent behind the rules, the “leash laws,” is not to be punitive but instead to be community-minded. “I am not ‘patrolling’ our preserves looking for people who are breaking the rules. We are a small community…We hope that people be respectful and educate themselves,” said Drenga.

The Blue Hill Peninsula Trail Guide 2022 is available at IHT and BHHT offices, as well as at local markets and shops. Additional trail/preserve information is also available at islandheritagetrust.org and bluehillheritagetrust.org. For dog training information, visit dianalogan.com and saltydogsobedience.com.

For information on how to behave around and/or report an unleashed dog, see “How to handle unleashed dog encounters.”