A task force considering a dog park for Hagerstown is focusing on establishing the park in Fairgrounds Park or City Park and is moving away from possibly having it in Hager Park.
Task force chairperson Maria Mestre said after one of the group’s meeting Monday afternoon at City Hall that the task force likes Fairgrounds Park and City Park because they are big enough to allow the city to have flexibility in establishing a dog park. Both parks have existing walking trails and little brush that would have to be cleared for a dog park.
When the dog park was being considered for Hager Park, there were concerns of possible problems such as dogs attacking children or dogs getting hit by balls from nearby baseball fields.
Task force members talked Monday afternoon about drafting a letter that will go out to adjacent property owners of Fairgrounds Park and City Park. The letter would outline possible rules and regulations that are being considered for the park and would give dates and times for community meetings where residents around the two parks can learn more about the dog park proposal, task force members said.
Any recommendation to establish a dog park would go to Hagerstown Mayor David S. Gysberts and City Council to consider and task force member Stacey Webster said the task force may narrow its choice down to one park.
A dog park is an open area set aside where dog owners can let their dogs run loose. Task force members are considering a park with separate sections for large and small dogs, and they talked about other details Monday including fencing, lighting, benches and other features.
Webster said the task force is hoping to have its final recommendation by April. The group’s next meeting is Feb. 11 at 5 p.m. at City Hall.
A Hagerstown Police Department representative and City Attorney Bill Nairn appeared before the task force Monday night to address issues such as liability concerns, crime and aggressive dogs.
Given the park would be a “governmental activity,” Nairn said he believes the city would have little to worry about in regards to any liability concerns that might pop up from problems in the park. That is as long as the park is free, Nairn said. If a fee is proposed, the issue over liability becomes a more gray area, Nairn said.
Although the Hagerstown Police Department could take action against people who cause trouble in the park, such as issuing a no trespassing letter, Lt. Paul Kifer said he thinks people who would use the park would be mostly law abiding people.
Kifer said he likes the idea of the park because it gives people a chance to socialize in a positive environment.
Kifer said he doubts there would be much of a problem with people bringing aggressive dogs into the park because those people would realize that they are running the risk of having their dogs being euthanized if their dog attacks another dog or a person.
Task force member Tony Bittner asked Kifer if a dog owner would legally be able to use force to subdue a dog if the animal is attacking the owner’s dog.
Kifer said the dog owner would have that ability, as long as the owner does not use more force than necessary.
“If it’s defending, it’s no different than being a defensive human being,” Kifer said.
Kifer urged the task force to put the dog park in a more heavily trafficked area. It’s important for such a facility to have “natural surveillance,” meaning there is a lot of activity around.
“That keeps the criminal element from wanting to get in those areas,” Kifer said.