Dogs and Humans Clash at John Harvard Mall

Parents don’t want their kids playing in the grass where dogs have just done their “thing.”

And dog owners want to be able to have a place near home where they can let their pets stretch their legs.

Those two viewpoints – with have various additional issues that radiate out from each viewpoint – are the recipe for a clash between groups using the John Harvard Mall for different reasons. It’s a recipe whose end result in Charlestown usually comes back to the lack of a real dog park for a neighborhood with a lot of dogs.

The Friends of the John Harvard Mall, and the Patriot-Bridge, have fielded a few complaints this summer about dog owners clashing with parents of children.

One letter from a parent that wished to remain anonymous said that many parents see dog owners out from 7:30 to 8:15 a.m. on the small grassy area in the Mall, as well as in the evening.

While having them on leash is an issue, the bigger issue seems to be the dogs urinating or defecating on the grass.

“I watched 18 different dogs urinate and defecate, several more than once, on the small grass area next to the playground at the Harvard Mall,” said the parent. “Those dog owners bring their dogs each evening for the same purpose. Most of them pick up their dog’s feces but traces of those feces and large amounts of urine remain. This precious bit of urine-soaked, feces-stained, torn-up grass is used by many children and their families during the day for play, nursery-school, and community activities.  Although there is a new sign up – the last one ‘disappeared’ – this abuse continues.”

The Parks Department said that while dogs are not allowed on artificial turf, they are allowed on grassy areas in the parks like at the Mall.

“Dogs are welcome in the passive areas of Boston’s parks as long as they are on leash,” said Parks Director Ryan Woods. “Dogs are not allowed in children’s playgrounds or on artificial turf playing fields. We ask all dog owners to clean up after their pets and residents can report any enforcement  issues to Boston Animal Care and Control.”

Pippa Nava, of the CharlestownDogs group, said she owns two dogs, and also runs a professional dog walking business in Charlestown and in other neighborhoods. She said that being in the city, these two groups are going to clash unless there is a specified dog park nearby. She said they always ask dog owners to be respectful of children playing and always keep dogs on leash.

“We occasionally see flare ups and usually in areas of Town like Eden Street Park or Doherty Park or the Training Field is a big one too,” she said. “We always work with our members and tell them to be respectful of everyone in the park. Unfortunately, Charlestown has a lot of children’s’ parks and not really any good dog park…I don’t even let my dogs off-leash personally and in my business. We strictly walk dogs on leash on the streets at all times. In other parts of the city, like the South End and North End, there are great dog parks. The dogs love that and it’s a great release of energy for them. Clients love that and the dogs love it too…We all want to live in the city, and I guess we have to learn to live together.”

Debra Sordillo, vice president of the Friends of John Harvard Mall, said it is an ongoing issue all over the city, and she hoped that the recent clash could lead to a renewed discussion about a dog park.

“This is an ongoing issue all over the city of Boston,” she said. “It would be wonderful if Charlestown had a designated park just for dogs. To the best of my knowledge, we don’t.”

Don Giambastiani, also of the Friends, said there were a lot of clashes after the Mall was first refurbished in 2017. He said dogs and children were frequently at odds back then, and some dog owners allowed their dogs to destroy the flower beds in the Mall. Also, when trying to intervene with dog owners, many did not get a good response from them. However, that has died down he said, and there isn’t as much angst.

He said the issue of dogs using the bathroom on the grass, where children play and people sit is something that there isn’t an answer for.

“There’s never been a clear cut rule that says dogs can’t go to the bathroom on the grass,” he said. “We have put up signs on the fence and in the grass, but they disappeared both times. No one knows who did that. One day they were gone and we didn’t know where they went…It’s a tough thing, and we as a Board have agreed we don’t want to inflame it any further…I completely understand the complaint parents have with little kids playing where a dog might have used the bathroom shortly before. However, the situation is a lot better than it was a few years ago. We just don’t have any answers now.”

One of the answers that routinely comes up is to get a couple of dedicated dog parks in place sooner than later. Many agree that if there is a dedicated dog park, many owners wouldn’t go to the parks and would prefer such a place because it is legal to have a dog off-leash. Right now, unofficially, many dog owners use Paul Revere Park, and there are plans for a dedicated dog park there in years to come. On Medford Street, the dog run there provided by the Flatley Company is also very popular, but again unofficial. There have also been discussions about having a large dog park in some of the underutilized space under the Mystic/Tobin Bridge.

Nava said there were some serious discussions with Council members about getting a dog park in Charlestown ASAP, but COVID drowned out those discussions.

With the clash at the Mall now, she said she hopes it can start those discussion again.

“CharlestownDogs has been trying with our membership to get something done on that since I became a member,” she said. “It’s definitely at the top of our list. It’s a matter of kick-starting it and this maybe is the thing that drives it.”

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