Will Wellesley College ban dogs on Lake Waban path? Unlikely, but…

Who doesn’t love walking around Lake Waban? I’m a regular on that almost three-mile trail loop, along with students, Wellelsey College faculty and staff, visitors to town and the college, and dogs. Lots of dogs. Lately, I’ve been hearing complaints about that last group, or more specifically, their owners. As usual in these situations, two issues loom large: dog waste and unleashed dogs.

Lake Waban, Wellesley, private property sign
The path around Lake Waban is one of my Wellesley Happy Places. I’m not alone in that, but we all have to follow the rules of common courtesy, my knights and ladies, and your precious hounds.

The first issue, dog waste, is easy to tackle here because it’s so clear-cut. Pick up after your dog. Just do it. Don’t be one of these types:

The Pretenders

They let their dog off leash, telling themselves that no one is around and why not let the dog stretch out a little bit. The reality: they want their dog to poop in the woods, and they either feign ignorance, or pretend it doesn’t matter because the dog is off the trail. Later, they choose not to wonder why they haven’t seen their dog do Number 2 all day. We see you. The practice is vile. Stop.

The Forgetters

They bag up their dog’s waste and set the bag down, telling themselves they’ll pick it up when they loop back around. There it stays, lonely and abandoned. Forever. I’ll spare you the pictures I’ve been sent. Even though dog owners are a social lot who would do just about anything for Dogdom as a whole, they draw the line here. As a matter of principal, responsible dog owners do not help out irresponsible dog owners by picking up left-behind bags of waste. As a non-dog owner who loves dogs, I get that. I might pick up a tossed Gatorade bottle, but dog poop bags? Never, even though I know it would make the Lake Waban loop more enjoyable for all. There’s the yuck factor, or course, but the main thing is the frustration part of it. If I pick up that gross plastic bag, why will the offender ever change?

After hearing rumors that Wellesley College might ban dogs from the Lake Waban path, I asked Blythe Robinson, Town of Wellesley Executive Director, if she’d been approached by college representatives concerned about this issue. She said, “Wellesley has mentioned their concern about the number of dogs off leash and that people are either not curbing their dogs or may not carry out with them the bags that they use. They have brought this up in the context of making us aware of it in order to raise awareness in town and in what context can the Town assist.”

Sounds civilized enough so far, until you get to the second part of this issue: keeping dogs on-leash. Now there’s another problem. Blythe continues, “As you’d find anywhere, not everyone likes dogs and thus [Wellesley College] expects people who walk their dogs there to keep them leashed, which is and has been for many years a requirement in the Town’s bylaws as well as to pick up after them.”

I give you the two types of people who don’t want to leash their dogs:

The Purposefully Obtuse

They claim their dog usually doesn’t act aggressive, even as it approaches another dog, growling and exhibiting dominant behavior. They might even get huffy when their unleashed dog approaches a dog who happens to be aggressive and, as such, is on a leash by a responsible owner. Others with legitimately the sweetest dogs ever can sometimes seem affronted that a potentially aggressive (as warned by the owner) but fully controlled dog is even out for a walk. Guess what, not all of those rescue dogs are the grateful submissive types you see on social media videos. As with humans, responses vary with life circumstances. Some rescue dogs have been through the wringer and are “family-only” types, and they don’t take kindly to being approached  — even by your beautiful golden retriever without a mean bone in her fluffy body. Yeah, your dog is friendly, but that doesn’t matter because guess what, not everybody’s is. Having a friendly dog is not a license for having an unleashed dog. Stop being purposely obtuse. And no obfuscating the issue by suggesting a merely unfriendly dog is automatically so volatile that it shouldn’t be out. Unsocial, under-control dogs deserve to walk around unbothered and unapproached. In fact, controlled proximity to unfamiliar people and dogs is probably the best thing for them. Anything more is up to consenting dogs and their owners.

The Libertarians

They not-so-secretly despise leash laws, believing the doctrines of free will should extend to their dogs, who would never hurt a flea anyway. The many signs on the path reminding people to leash their dogs has no effect on them, because the rules don’t apply to them. The’ve got their reasons: they don’t see anybody in near vicinity, or dogs should be free to explore as they choose, the way their kids do at that great Montessori school. They may believe that constantly leashed dogs become neurotic and unhappy, which is just another way of saying, ‘I don’t like your stupid leash laws, and I refuse to participate.’

Wellesley Animal Control Officer Sue Webb says she occasionally is asked to get involved with dog issues at Wellesley College. She says, “…they contact me if a specific incident has occurred on campus. They usually want help identifying the dog/owner involved.”

Webb notes, “The entire lake is surrounded by private property.  Walkers and dogs are welcome if people stay on paths and dogs on leash. Some people wander off the paths or let their dogs loose that then interfere with residents who live there and/or their personal pets.”

That’s really the thing that a lot of people seem to forget. On the lake path, we are all guests of either Wellesley College or the Hunnewell family. It’s a privilege to walk there, and much of the path is really there for Wellesley College students. Some of them love dogs and miss their own faithful hounds far away back home. But some of them are afraid of unfamiliar dogs. I know they’re empowered, and strong, independent women, unafraid to speak up and all, but do they have to stand up for themselves ALL the time? Sometimes a person just wants to walk on her partially tuition-funded path after a tough day in class defending her academic lines of reasoning, without having to defend the very space she’s occupying.

There are no banned dogs

To Wellesley College’s credit, banning dogs from the trail is an absolute last resort. Their priority is public awareness, rather than draconian measures. They’re talking about refreshing the signage and simply working with the town by keeping the issue as part of the conversation during informal meetings the town has with Wellesley College throughout the year.

“We enjoy sharing our campus with the public, so that others can experience the nature, beauty, and serenity of Wellesley College,” says Marianne Cooley, Assistant Vice President and Secretary of the Board of Trustees. “We collaborate with the town, and for this regulation, our space is treated like all of the town’s open spaces. We hope that through our continued work together, and by building greater awareness of leash laws, Lake Waban can continue to be a place for all to enjoy.”

Obviously, Wellesley College is not especially interested in ticketing dog owners, or getting involved in some town and gown blood war about the issue. Their welcome to walk the lake path has been warm all these years, and their requests are simple: leash and pick up. Please.

Cheerful compliance is up to us. For the record, according to the town website, “While the town does not have a leash law, per say, all dogs must be under the immediate voice control of their owner or remain on a leash (no longer than seven feet) at all times.” Additionally, Wellesley has a restriction allowing the walking of only two (2) dogs per person or three (3) dogs per person with the appropriate permit. Full information here.

Perrin Park in the northwest area of Wellesley is the the only park thus far with specific regulations regarding dogs. There are no dog parks in town. Webb notes, “Dogs can not be on private property without permission.  When on property where they are allowed off leash they must be under control.”

From a runner’s point of view

Mr. Swellesley, a lifelong runner, can be downright curmudgeonly about this issue. If he’s running and your unleashed dog approaches him, he’s suddenly forced out of the zone and into practicing avoidance techniques that include not colliding with the dog. Starting a conversation with the dog, (“Who’s a good boy?”) or perhaps slowing down to pet the dog and praise its beauty are not happening. He just wants to run. Either help him, and the other runners, or get out of his way.