Leashes Required For Dogs At Putnam Farm

by Ryan Bray
Dogs now must be kept on leash at Putnam Farm, the conservation commission voted last week.  RYAN BRAY  PHOTO Dogs now must be kept on leash at Putnam Farm, the conservation commission voted last week. RYAN BRAY PHOTO

ORLEANS – You can still walk your dogs at Putnam Farm, but the conservation commission last week voted to require that they be leashed at all times on the property.

The commission voted 5-1-1 June 18 to institute the leash requirement in an effort to protect the farm’s community gardening plots and nearby wetlands. Commissioner Dick Hilmer voted against the measure and Commissioner Walter North abstained.

The farm is home to 20 community gardening plots as well as two centralized wetland areas. The wetlands, one a pond and the other a shrub swamp, are currently in the process of being restored to their natural conditions.

Commission chair Drusy Henson said that last week’s hearing and vote came following concerns raised by the town’s agricultural advisory council about the adverse impacts of dogs and other animals in the area.

Several of the community growers sell their produce at local farmers markets, and Peter Jensen, who chairs the agricultural council, told the commission that growers have made “significant financial investments” in their plots.

“I stand in partnership with growers that have had incursions and challenges,” he said.

Conservation Agent John Jannell said he’s received written correspondence from three Putnam growers regarding dogs in the plot areas. Alexander Bates said in his letter that he’s found dog prints in his crop beds.

But rather than ban people from walking their dogs at the farm, Bates advocated for more control over animals on the property.

“Visually there are a lot of changes at Putnam Farm with the wetland restorations and the expansion of plots,” Bates wrote in his letter, which was read by Jannell. “This would be a perfect time to further discuss the awareness and importance of leasing or restraining your dog on the property.”

Commission member Judith Bruce agreed, calling banning dogs from the property “overkill.”

“But it does seem like we need to make sure that there are controls over both the agricultural plots and the restored area,” she said.

Jannell said cameras are set up at the farm to monitor activity in the area. Coyotes have been observed on the property, but he said cameras have only captured three walkers over the past three weeks.

But while Jensen said the “probability” that dogs will run loose and disturb the plots is low, it’s still a possibility. Beyond disrupting crops, there’s also the potential issue of pet waste, he said.

“There are few things that have higher levels and counts of bacteria than dog feces,” Bruce added. “So it’s a real concern. These are growers that sell their produce. It’s organic produce that many of us buy at farmers markets.”

Another grower, Krystle McMorrow, said in her correspondence to the town that rather than dogs, she’s more concerned with the problem of theft in the community plots. Orleans resident Rick Francolini said part of the problem may be the lack of education for residents and visitors about how the farm works, especially with regard to the effort that community growers put into the plots.

Specifically, Francolini said there needs to be better signage at the farm’s kiosk advertising the work that is done on the farm.

“I do not think we’ve done the job we could do to fully educate the visitors as to what’s happening there,” he said.

Jannell said there are “Do Not Disturb” signs in the area of the plots, but Francolini said that more specific language could help sway walkers to be more mindful. He said in his conversations with visitors at the farm, there’s interest in the work that is done there.

“They’re very impressed to learn about the details once I start to educate them,” he said. “Many of them have no idea that these are privately managed and are being paid for and are supporting somebody’s livelihood in many cases.”

The commission entertained some discussion about dividing the farm into areas where dogs must be leashed and where they can run free, such as in the area near the bike path away from the wetlands and plots. But members said they favored a uniform policy throughout the entire property.

“Either have everything on leash or no dogs whatsoever,” Commissioner Jerry Wander said.

Citing the “hundreds of millions” of dollars the town is investing in helping clean up its local waterways, Orleans resident Tim Counihan said dogs should be kept in control on the farm.

“Why would we consider free running dogs within 100 feet of any waterway?” he said.

Asked what his preferred remedy would be, Jensen advocated for a policy requiring that all dogs be leashed on the property. He said leashing provides the best balance between controlling pets and allowing people to enjoy the farm and learn about local agriculture.

“This is a brilliant interface, and we really don’t want to see anything that’s going to jeopardize that broader opportunity for education to the public,” he said.

Going forward, Commissioner Bob Rothberg said the commission should consider adopting a similar policy for community farms at Sea Call Farm and Hopkins Farm.

Email Ryan Bray at ryan@capecodchronicle.com