Fighting Town Board No Walk in the Park For Dog Lovers

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MTT News Desk's picture
Anthony D. Prince
Troy Alton’s 14-year old daughter Arria with the family dog, Tanner.

As the snow fell last week and cars slipped and slid on Summerfield Drive, Troy Alton’s 14-year old daughter Arria had to keep one eye on “Tanner,” the family dog, and the other on the road—with no sidewalks or curb between them. But Arria’s father, oral surgeon Troy Alton got little sympathy at the Middleton Town Board meeting last week when his request to schedule additional public input on Middleton’s dog walking restrictions was turned down. “We won’t go that way,” declared board chairman Milo Breunig, “We’ve asked the Parks [Dept.] to look at it and we’ll wait for them to get back to us.”

Currently, dog walking is prohibited in Middleton parks, the Pope Farm Conservancy and the Goth Conservancy.  Supporters of the ban include Middleton Town Board member Bill Kolar and town administrator David Shaw. “We’ve had dogs off leash running towards people,” says Shaw, who also cites damage from dog waste to delicate conservancy ecosystems and wildlife as valid justifications for the ban.

But according to Alton, people forced to walk their dogs on streets bereft of sidewalks and curbs are at risk.  “With all the distractions people have in cars while driving, it only takes one mistake for a serious accident to happen.” As for concerns regarding the impact of dogs in green spaces, Alton points out that leashed dogs are permitted in nearby Pheasant Branch Conservancy with no adverse impact on the environment.

In part to advocate for the many Middleton families who love and take good care of their dogs, Alton is running against incumbent Town Board Member and dog-ban supporter Bill Kolar.  Alton believes that Board members have caved in to a small pressure group, ignoring the safety concerns of dog owners. “In some instances, such as Goth Park Conservancy, there are a few influential people whose houses border the park who would rather have this as their backyard and not have people walking in it.” But Kolar counters that “going back seven or years, we had numerous leash violations [in the parks]” and points to a Dane County dog exercise area that is easily accessible to all. For his part, Town Administrator David Shaw recounted a recent confrontation with a dog owner illegally walking a pit bull through a group of kids playing in the park. “We all like to think that our dog is the perfect dog,” says Shaw, “This incident was upsetting to the children.”

Alton claims the supporters of the ban on dogs in the parks are exaggerating the situation and recently started an online petition to allow dogs into Pope Farm Conservancy and Goth Conservancy in December.  Signers included women who, according to Alton, want to exercise but do not feel safe walking in a park alone. “Having a companion dog would make them feel and be much safer,” he claims. “Would a husband want his wife walking through Goth Park alone, with nobody else around? Most would not.”

 Another important consideration, says Alton, is not only the necessity of regularly walking the family dog to ensure the pet’s health and longevity but the considerable consequential, long-term health benefit to their bi-pedal companions. The experts seem to bear Alton out: in their book The Health Benefits of Dog Walking for People and Pets,  Alan Beck and Rebecca Johnson write, “Dog walking has the potential to confer human health benefits through increased physical activity. Given the high prevalence of dog ownership, this effect would be larger than any physical activity intervention examined to date.”    Thus, it would seem that “man’s best friend” may also be his best health care provider, according to dog walkers.

Meanwhile, the debate continues. For his part, Troy Alton has reached out to people on  the “other side” in an effort to find some common ground. This includes Mel Pope, the son of the man who sold the land that is now Pope Farm Conservancy to the Town of Middleton. “I had a nice talk with Mel about my concerns and listened to his,” reports Alton. “In a gesture of compromise,  I  amended my on line petition to remove specific references to Pope Farm Park and use more general terms such as ‘green space.’”

It remains to be seen if the two sides in this dispute can work out their differences.

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