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Local History

War is declared on the canine species in New-York, and they being strangers, and not having formed alliances for self-defense, but on the contrary, distressed and friendless may have been exposed not only to war, but to pestilence and famine also (George Washington to William Grayson [his assistant secretary and aide-de-camp during the American Revolution], August 22, 1875, quoted by Mark Derr in A Dog's History of America, p. 74).

Washington was concerned about foxhounds he had "adopted" from the Marquis de Lafayette that were in the care of John Quincy Adams, who had brought the dogs to New York from Europe.

Washington's dogs were safe at home at Mount Vernon when he was supervising the construction of an earthenwork forts at what is now Fort Washington Park, located on Waverly Street in Cambridge. Today the park is one of four in the City of Cambridge where dogs are allowed off-leash.

Combining historical considerations with consideration for the people who live in Cambridge today, the Cambridge Historical Commission has approved the temporary installation of fencing that will make the legal off-leash recreation area a safe area for off-leash recreation. The new fencing is not historically accurate; therefore with its approval of the temporary fencing, the Commission has stipulated that, within five years, the City must come up with a more harmonic alternative.

"A dog's life is not very long," said Commission member Jo Solet. "And if we put off putting up the fence, it really is a sacrifice for the dogs and the people [who own them]."

The creative compormise was reported in the Cambridge Chronicle on January 12.

via the Cambridge Dog Owners Group (CDOG)

Dog owners trump history
By Sarah Andrews / Chronicle Staff
Thursday, January 12, 2006

Because the wrought-iron fence surrounding Fort Washington Park doesn?t quite reach the ground, dogs have been known to escape the grassy patch in Cambridgeport, one of three Cambridge parks where dogs are allowed off-leash.

Magazine Street resident Debbie Karlan has seen dogs squeeze through the fence to chase trains down the nearby railroad track and follow the paths of balls and children.

?It?s scary,? she said at a public hearing last Thursday. ?Yes, Cambridge has a dog park, but it?s not quite safe.?

Now, however, dog owners who use Fort Washington Park can rest a little easier. Last week, the Historical Commission approved the temporary installation of a 40-inch-high chain-link fence which will abut the existing fence and keep pooches caged in.

The fence will reach the ground around the perimeter and cover the five entrances to the park that are now open. Three of those will have a gate. The fence is expected to cost about $4,000, according to Greg Garber of the Parks and Urban Forestry Division.

But the approval came with a catch. Because the proposed fence, which will not be attached to the existing fence, contrasts with the park?s historical design, the city has five years or less to come up with a more harmonic alternative.

?I?m aware that this is a politically desirous thing for the city to do ... but I am also a little troubled by the micromesh fence,? said William King, the commission?s chairman, who added that the project should be ?done right.?

Commission members supported the temporary solution in a 6-1 vote, saying it was important to meet the needs of dogs and their owners.

?A dog?s life is not very long,? said commission member Jo Solet. ?And if we put off putting up the fence, it really is a sacrifice for the dogs and the people [who own them].?

Long a contentious issue, off-leash dog areas have received much attention from city officials and politicians this year. Fort Washington is one of only three spaces in the city where dogs can freely frolic, along with an area on the northwest edge of Danehy Park and a section of the Fresh Pond Reservation.

For more than 10 years, dog owners have lobbied for more of these spaces. Letting a dog off leash in undesignated areas can net flouters of the law a fine, although many say they do it anyway for lack of sanctioned parks.

A June report, which recommended further study of the Fort Washington fence, also listed 82 Pacific St. as having off-leash potential. The study, however, which had been commissioned in 2003, was criticized by some for not making enough progress.

City Councilor Brian Murphy chaired the Public Facilities Committee last term, and has asked City Manager Bob Healy to look into more space for dog parks during the upcoming budget session.

Members of the Cambridge Dog Owners Group stopped short of calling last week?s decision a ?victory,? saying that dog parks in Cambridge still have a long way to go.

Helen Fairman of West Cambridge said dog owners were a ?tremendously under-served population.? And she said CDOG continues to worry about off-leash rights in other parks.

?We?re deeply concerned about access being threatened in other areas,? she said, referring specifically to the Fresh Pond Reservation where she said the dog area has been made smaller.

But CDOG members said they were pleased with the commission?s swift ruling on Fort Washington Park.

Cambridge currently has 2,133 licensed dogs living in the city, according to the Animal Commission. Licensing a dog costs $5 per year for spayed pups and $15 for those not spayed.

CDOG member Catherine Fabio said dog owners might be willing to face an increase in these fees in order to help fund more off-leash areas in the city.

The fence at Fort Washington faced the Historic Commission?s hurdle because it is a landmark. The park was created in 1774 by George Washington as a fort during the Siege of Boston. In 1858, the property was donated to the city, provided it be fenced in and adorned.

The wrought-iron fence was last restored between 1978 and 1993, according to Sarah Burks of the Historic Commission. Off-leash use was approved for the park in 1994. Contact Sarah Andrews at sandrews at cnc.com.

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