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Dog Owners Angered by Leash Rule in Easton

EASTON, Conn. — Lara Pasternack has always thought of the Trout Brook Valley nature preserve as a great place to hike. And she says it would be an even better place for her boxer, Baltazar, to run around freely and get the exercise he needs. But the Aspetuck Land Trust has announced that every dog in the preserve must be on a leash.

“Honestly, I am not happy with the decision. I don’t really see much of a need for this new rule,” the Westport resident said Monday while walking the trails with Baltazar.

The new rule requires that all owners must have their dogs on leashes while the land trust does a wildlife survey of the 1,009-acre park.

“We are asking people to leash their dogs while we conduct a wildlife survey. We continue to allow dogs off leash at all of our other nature preserves with the exception of the Newman Poses preserve in Westport and the north side of the Stonebridge Waterfowl preserve in Weston. Our policies regarding dogs are quite liberal compared to other land trusts, most of whom either prohibit dogs or require them to be on leashes,” said David Brant, executive director of the Aspetuck Land Trust.

Dogs have been allowed to roam the preserve freely since 1999, Brant said. But to have a true count of the animals that live in Trout Brook Valley, it is a necessity for dogs to now be on leashes. The rule is making several dog owners unhappy, many of whom said they we not planning to abide by the new rules. “This is just a nightmare, and now it’s just no fun,” said Stuart Hazelwood of Westport.

“Now this is really going to be a year of not enjoying the facility. If you look at this as an experiment, how are you going to interpret the results because, in all honesty, no one is going to comply,” Hazelwood said.

Over the years, many municipalities have placed stricter dog rules at parks — sometimes banning dogs all together or limiting the time of the year that they are allowed. Such new laws, Brant said, have led to an increase in the number of dogs at Trout Brook Valley. But that increase has also resulted in an influx of “troubling occurrences” at the preserve.

Hikers have reported dog attacks, dog fights, dog bites of adults and children, destruction of wildlife habitat and the death of two baby foxes in June by an off-leash dog, Brant said. Although many are complaining about the new rule, hiker Bob Marcinuk of Westport said he welcomes the change. “I come here about three times a week, and the dogs don’t listen,” he said.

“I deal with the dogs, and I share the trail with the dogs, I have seen incidents here and I think part of the problem is that for some of these dogs, coming here and running around without a leash is like party time. There are no rules here, and the dogs know that,” Marcinuk said.

As for now, Brant said he would like the public to cooperate with the new rule and be patient. “After results of the study are known, we will reassess our policies within the existing 21-mile trail system at Trout Brook Valley. With a foundation of scientific information, we will be better able to determine if any long-term changes need to be made to meet our organization’s twin goals of land conservation and access and passive recreation by the general public,” said Brant.

He said understands the frustrations that dog owners might be feeling and reminds everyone that this is temporary. “I know that some people are very upset, we have gotten a lot of complaints. What we want to do is to help people understand that this is not just about the dogs, we are trying to fine the balance between the use of the land with the public and use of the land with nature.”

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