Kiwi, a cattle dog mix, heeds owner Kathy Bock’s command to sit at Royal River Park in Yarmouth. Kristen McNerney / The Forecaster

Dogs owners who visit Royal River Park might have to be more diligent when walking their canine companions due to concerns about safety and an effort to streamline leash rules.

The proposed changes would require dogs to be leashed at all times in the park, except for in the Picnic Point area, a grassy area with picnic tables adjacent to the main parking lot on East Elm Street.

Dogs are now allowed off-leash before 9 a.m. and after 6 p.m. from April 1 to Oct. 31. in most sections of the park and any time at Picnic Point if they can obey owners’ voice commands. From Nov. 1 to March 31, afternoon hours are extended to allow dogs off leash after 3 p.m. Dogs are also required to be leashed at all times along the paved path that runs parallel to the river and during posted events.

The public will have an opportunity to comment on the issue at a town council workshop Sept. 2.

The move comes as a preemptive safety measure, according to Yarmouth Chief of Police Dan Gallant.

“Although we haven’t had a large number of official reports about incidents in the park, we view this as a precautionary step based on the increased number of users in the park,” Gallant said.

Gallant could not provide specific numbers for park visitors with dogs.

According to Town Clerk Jennifer Doten, so far this year 972 dogs have been registered with the town, compared to 959 in 2020. These totals are higher than in 2016, which saw 889 registered dogs, but lower than 2017-2019 totals, which saw 1,089, 1,083 and 1,135 dogs registered for each respective year.

“Staff and park users have expressed concern or shared their experiences with the animal control officer regarding dogs in the park, and although many dog owners consider their pet to be non-aggressive, not everyone enjoys having a strange dog come into their space and jump on them,” Gallant said.

Cody, a 4-year-old pit bull, is always leashed, her owner said, because she gets “too excitable” around other dogs. Kristen McNerney / The Forecaster

Many recent visitors to the park said they regularly leash their dogs anyway.

“I don’t have any problems with requiring the leash here,” Yarmouth resident Kathy Bock said.

Bock, who comes to the park for routine walks with her cattle dog mix, Kiwi, said she has had “incidents” with other dogs that were unleashed at the park.

If the extended regulations would affect more than just Royal River Park, Bock said that might pose a problem. “There’s plenty of open space in Yarmouth,” she said, suggesting that unleashed dogs would have a number of other places to roam if not at Royal River Park.

Linda Boucher, a Brunswick resident, often drives 20 minutes to the park to take out her two dogs. “I like how it’s pretty and calming and by the river,” she said.

Boucher now leashes her dogs when she visits Royal River Park because she was asked by an animal control officer when she was playing fetch with one of them last year during hours the dogs were supposed to be leashed. Boucher said she has been respectful of the rules but doesn’t “mind in the slightest” if dogs are off leash and under control by their owners.

In addition to safety concerns, Gallant said the proposed changes would make the rules more consistent. “Current rules can be confusing with the specific times, seasonal limits, locations and park events,” he said.

Some dog owners in the habit of leashing their canines aren’t even aware of the rules.

“I didn’t know dogs were allowed to be off leash here,” said resident Sarah Rutberg, who was walking with her lab mix Charlie last Thursday on an overcast morning at the park. When notified that dogs were permitted off leash during certain hours, Rutberg said she was supportive of the allowance.

“Dogs should have a place to run and socialize,” she said. “It’s everyone’s park.”

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