‘Charlestown Dogs’ Looks to Increase Social, Responsible Owners

By Seth Daniel

Just a few weeks ago, Charlestown residents Chris Lovell, Kristen Lanni and Rob O’Brien found themselves on the receiving end of puzzled looks from dog owners up at the Monument.

The trio, however, said they didn’t blame people for the strange looks.

After all, they were filling holes in the Monument’s yard; holes that had been dug by dogs playing alongside their owners, yet left to linger.

It wasn’t an everyday site – though they hope it will become normalized.

The effort, all three said, was the kind of example their new group, Charlestown Dogs, was looking to provide to dog owners in the Town – many of whom flock to the Monument and Paul Revere Park (especially with the closing of the Training Field) to let their dogs exercise, but don’t always take the initiative to or know to leave the place better than they found it.

Hence the holes.

“The main focus of our group is responsibility,” said Lanni during a recent interview with the group leaders at the Warren Tavern. “We want to stress responsible dog ownership. We want the dogs and the owners to be a welcome part of the neighborhood. We want owners to know what is expected and enable them to do the right things to help the neighborhood. Responsible ownership is key.”

Lovell said he believes their group – which also has social gatherings with other dog owners as part of the mission – will endure where others have not due to teaching dog owners how to be good dog owners.

He said the dog population has increased in the Town as empty nesters and couples without kids gravitate towards dog ownership – and in Charlestown – they particularly choose to own dogs that require exercise and are running dogs, such as Labrador Retrievers. He said that with this spike in the dog population, a peaceful coexistence needed to be brokered.

“The population of dogs has gone through the roof here,” he said. “The demographics in the neighborhood have really changed. There are couples who are getting dogs in anticipation of having children. They sort of start out with a dog, and you also have empty-nesters like myself who want to own a dog in the city. So, you have a particularly green dog owning population that is also enthusiastic and many times doesn’t know how to own a dog responsibly.”

The group decided to focus in first on the holes at the Monument, talking to the National Parks Service and not only getting the green light to do it, but also getting materials to help get the job done. Using social media and their website (www.charlestowndogs.com), they were able to get quite a crowd to help fill the holes last month – to the delight of the Park Service and others who use the Monument for things other than dog walking.

“It’s simply leadership by example,” Lovell said. “What doesn’t work is telling people their dogs are digging holes and they need to fill them. They won’t do it. When the dog group comes down, though, and just starts filling holes, you’ll get those same people to join in.”

A second part of that education mission for the group will be to take a page from the successful North End dog group, called Ruff, in hosting traveling dog parties. That will entail (no pun intended) having groups of dog owners, with their dogs, walk a few streets at a time cleaning up after irresponsible dog owners and cleaning up trash in general. They envision it as a way to contribute to the community, get social time for the dogs/owners and get to know more neighbors.

“If you talk about dog poop tending to be something that needs to be picked up, then it’s not a huge jump to say lets also pick up nips and plastic bags also,” Lovell said.

That said, Lovell and Lanni said there will be a political or advocacy wing to the group.

Members of the new group – and dog owners in general – tend to find out quickly that Boston and Charlestown are not dog-friendly places, they said. Compared to other parts of the country, dog policy is downright despicable.

“Boston is not a particularly dog-friendly city,” said Lanni. “It’s can’t, can’t, can’t all over the place. Anywhere a dog is actually allowed, it’s only on a leash. There is really nowhere except the Boston Common where a dog can run without a leash. We want to have advocacy as a group to have more venues for our dogs. We’re speaking as a group and we’ll be more powerful as a group to bring more attention to the City that we need a seat at the table. As they do all the planning for the city, dog owners and dogs have to be part of that planning for Boston and for Charlestown. It has to be included in any type of planning. The population of dogs is growing by the day and you have to consider that in any planning..”

Additionally, they dream of being able to take their dogs on the ferry service out to the Harbor Islands. Most of the islands don’t allow dogs and the ferries don’t either, and having a dog off leash on the islands is certainly not permitted despite the numerous running trails.

Already, the group has cemented a large membership of more than 100, and last Saturday many congregated with their dogs at Paul Revere Park – a popular dog walking location for owners in the Town. The social aspect cannot be understated, they said, and they hoped to also introduce steady communication between owners in the Town as well.

“Every organization and population has a group, yet there is this huge population of people who own dogs and have no group,” Lovell said. “With our group, it’s more or less common sense. We don’t want to upset the apple cart. We have simple goals, like aspiring to be a ‘No Dog Poop’ town through self-policing. That responsibility piece is one of our major goals.”

Charlestown Dogs will continue to host more community service times and social gatherings in the near future. Keep tabs on the group and register as a member at www.charlestowndogs.com.

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