Update: This article has been updated to include information from the owner of the German Shepherd, who requested to have their name withheld from the article.
WESTFORD — Despite a 24-hour leash law, some residents have expressed concern over a number of off-leash dogs on public walking trails.
Ahead of a public hearing to be held with the Select Board, Westford resident Savitha Naidu shared her story with WestfordCAT.
An interview with Naidu
Naidu adopted Charlie in Feb. 2020 as an emotional support animal for her two adult sons, who suffered with anxiety and depression.
“I just felt like this would help them, and it did,” Naidu told WestfordCAT. “He is like our gift, our miracle.”
Naidu noted that she frequents the Greystone Trail and East Boston Camps, where she prefers to walk Charlie. During a routine walk in late April, Charlie was “viciously attacked” by a German Shepherd on Westford’s Greystone trail, according to an April 24 social media post by Naidu.
“Livid does not even begin to describe how I feel right now waiting in the emergency vet office,” she wrote. “If you can’t control your dogs, don’t bring them out in public. You are putting the rest of us at risk.”
Naidu said that Charlie received multiple stitches as a result of an alleged incident with the German Shepherd, costing her family “thousands” in veterinary fees.
“Most of these dogs are much bigger than Charlie,” she told WestfordCAT. “The dogs run up to you and sometimes they’re intimidating and you do not know how they would react to Charlie.”
She continued, “it’s exhausting, why can’t people just leash their dogs so we all can enjoy [the trails].”
Animal Control in Westford is responsible for enforcing the leash law, which carries fines for each offense. A $25 fine is issued upon the first offense, $50 for the second, $75 for the third offense and $100 for each subsequent offense. Naidu does not believe the law is strict enough.
“In the two years I have walked him I have not seen them patrol,” she said. “They [Animal Control] talk about staffing being an issue.”
Animal Control did not respond to multiple calls from WestfordCAT.
German Shepherd owner responds
The owner of the German Shepherd involved in the alleged incident contacted WestfordCAT to provide additional information.
“My husband called to apologize,” said the owner. “They said they would call back if anything was needed.”
They continued, “we waiting about two weeks and didn’t hear back from them. We called again and didn’t hear back.”
They said that the alleged incident was not a result of an off-leash dog, noting they had complied with Westford’s 24-hour leash law. The owners said they had contacted Naidu and her family to provide assistance with medical bills.
“We offered for them to send the medical bill to us and said we would pay for it,” they said.
The continued, “We were told by Animal Control that these hearing happen if there are multiple incidents,” they said. “But this is our first incident.”
Majority of residents aware of law, divided on enforcement
A survey was conducted between May 6 and May 11 to gauge a general attitude of Westford’s 24-hour leash law.
As a disclaimer, this survey does not represent an adequate sample size for the Town of Westford, and as such should not be treated as a scientific poll. It was conducted to find a very broad and general consensus of pet owners in town. Due to sampling bias, all open-ended responses were not considered in this data.
Of 92 total respondents, 64% noted that they owned a dog, while 36% said they did not. A vast majority, 86%, said they were aware of Westford’s 24-hour leash law, but 53% said they did not believe the town had “adequately informed owners” of the law.
As for enforcement, 53% of respondents said the town has enforced the law at least “sometimes,” while 47% said the town “never” enforces the law.
Currently, Westford’s leash law does not provide any exemptions for owners. A dog park has been in the works to provide a public space for off-leash dogs, but progress has stalled on the project, with the last public meeting held on July 18, 2019. Dog Park Task Force Chair Lauren Coffey did not respond to an email from WestfordCAT for comment.
The Select Board is holding a public hearing on Naidu’s case on Tuesday, May 24 at 8 p.m.
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