Portsmouth to explore off-leash dog park

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PORTSMOUTH — Dog owners may have a designated spot where their pets can roam free if a local woman gets her wish.

The Town Council Monday night unanimously approved resident Caroline "Bunny" Miller's request to set up a committee to study the issue. In a recent letter to the council, Ms. Miller said having a "designated place for dog owners to exercise their pets and form a social network at the same time is a win-win activity that is sure to enhance the desirability of the Town of Portsmouth as a place to live and raise families, as well as to retire and enjoy life."

She volunteered to head up a committee of interested residents who would seek possible sites on town-owned land; research the design of similar parks in other New England communities; secure cost estimates for fencing, benches and more; explore ways to privately fund the cost of preparing the park; assess any ongoing costs and liabilities to the town and develop rules; and guidelines for the use of the park.

“A dog park would not irrevocably alter the land," she said, noting that all that would be needed is fending.

Ms. Miller said it's important to her that something positive come out of a sad situation: the recent loss of her small pet dog, Oscar. The dog was attacked and killed recently by a neighbor's dog that had been running loose, she stated in the letter.

"Before Oscar's vision failed, he loved romping with other dogs at the Newport Off-Leash Dog Park on Connell Highway," she said.

Grace Kinnunen, chairwoman of the Glen Park Committee, immediately volunteered to serve on the committee. "For years I’ve been trying to get the dog people together to do this," she said, adding that care must be taken to make sure the Portsmouth park is done right.

Some dog parks are "awful," she said, noting that the one in Newport leaves a lot to be desired. The city can't make improvements, however, because it's privately owned, she said.

Professional dog trainer and local resident Peter Manning also volunteered to lend his expertise to the panel, even though he acknowledged he's not a big fan of dog parks.

"There are good ones and bad ones. Some of the best dog parks in the country have no fences," he said. Without control, however, "they can get out of hand," he said.

James Garman, who walks his dog at the Glen nearly every day, said he hopes the establishment of a local dog park doesn't mean dog owners' rights will be curtailed elsewhere. “We have 300-plus acres in this town where dogs can be walked. If we do build a dog park, I absolutely don’t want to see a prohibition of walking dogs anywhere else," he said.

Council members assured him that wouldn't be the case. After voting 6-0 to approve the formation of a committee, council member Elizabeth Pedro volunteers to be the council liaison to the panel.

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