Dogs, like all pets, fill an important place in people's lives and communities; however, sometimes it can be hard to figure out the community rules for dogs and their owners and why those rules were established. Dog owners often have questions about where dogs can run off-leash or whether dogs should be leashed in town and on local trails, and whether dog waste should be picked up.

Towns and local organizations have some useful information to help Valley dog owners navigate these questions. Fayston, Moretown, Warren and Waitsfield each have dog ordinances that regulate canines in the community. Each town requires that every dog owner secure their dog within their own home or land when not on a leash or "under the control of a competent and responsible attendant." The ordinances state that it is "unlawful" for a dog to run or "be at large" within the town. To "be at large" means that the dog is off the owner's land and not under the control of a person by leash, cord, chain or other means.

Town lands, which also comprise a significant portion of the Mad River Path, do not allow dogs to run at large. The Mad River Path Association asks that all dogs be leashed on the path to comply with the town ordinance, as well as to respect the wishes of their cooperating landowners.

"Landowners in The Valley are the reason we have the Mad River Path for the public to enjoy. The path crosses a lot of town land as well as private land and those landowners have asked that dogs be on leash when on their property. We respect their request, and so we ask that dog owners also be mindful of the landowners' wishes," says Autumn Foushee, Mad River Path Association director.

"Dogs are fun-loving, athletic animals that require space to exercise; however, if a dog isn't easily controlled, letting it off-leash in a public park or path can be dangerous for the dog, other dogs, livestock and wildlife, surrounding landowners and citizens," she continued.

Karen Anderson, owner and veterinarian at Mad River Veterinary Service in Fayston, said the most important thing is to understand a dog, and understand the liability of the towns in public places like the path.

"There have been goats killed or maimed, dog fights, people bitten, and farmer's crops damaged from dogs off-leash and not under the control of their owners," said Anderson. "These are examples that explain why towns establish leash and voice control rules for public places."

Town lands do not allow dogs to be unleashed and not under complete control of the owner. The Mad River Path follows the town's ordinance and also asks that dogs be leashed to respect landowners. State parks also do not allow dogs to be off-leash. National forests require dogs to be leashed in developed recreation areas. Currently, there are no established public places in The Valley specifically for dogs to be off-leash.

For many dog owners in The Valley, it's important to have a place where dogs can exercise off-leash. "I believe that dogs need unstructured time to run, play, and be free from the leash. Especially with other dogs, so they can release all that crazy canine energy in positive ways. It would be great to have a community-supported path or park, reasonably safe from cars, for dog owners and dogs who share this philosophy," says Dan Holtz, co-founder of Liz Lovely Cookies.

Another topic that towns, like Warren, often address in dog ordinances is feces. The bottom line is that it's always best to pick up after the pooch. Dog waste is considered a significant source of non-point pollution in many areas. A single gram of dog waste can contain many pathogens and parasites including <MI>E. coli,<D> heartworm, whipworm, hookworm, roundworm, tapeworm, giardia, and salmonella. Researchers have found that just two to three days of waste from 100 dogs can affect water quality in a small watershed to the extent that it is considered unsafe for recreation. Considering that 4 out of every 10 households own at least one dog, waste can quickly become a water quality issue. Studies in Morro Bay, California, found that bacteria from dog waste accounts for more than 10 percent of the total bacteria loads in waterways.

"A common misconception people have is that it is not important to clean up after dogs in rural areas like the Mad River Valley. Considering there is high 'dog traffic' in places like the Mad River Path, which is along the river, the problem becomes much more concentrated and localized, and the potential for significant contamination is there," says Caitrin Noel, director of Friends of the Mad River. 

"Friends of the Mad River has been monitoring bacteria for 25 years, and we have found consistently higher levels of bacteria in downstream areas of the watershed (Waitsfield and Moretown), and these areas are listed as 'impaired' for bacteria because they do not meet state water quality criteria. Part of the problem could be dog waste."

In an effort to provide information about local dog regulations and to create discussion about options for a public off-leash area for dogs, the Mad River Path Association will host the Valley Dog Owners Summit on June 15 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Waitsfield Elementary School gymnasium. All are welcome to attend. For more information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 496-7284.

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