By Frank Mand
June 10. 2015 6:00AM
The dogs are up in arms. (Is that a mixed metaphor?) The dogs are confused. Humans are supposed to follow them around and pick up after them. But in Morton Park these days things are topsy-turvy.
Jerry Cassidy and Luke pause before entering the danger zone in Morton Park. Wicked Local photo/Frank Mand
PLYMOUTH – The dogs are up in arms. (Is that a mixed metaphor?) The dogs are confused. Humans are supposed to follow them around and pick up after them. But in Morton Park these days things are topsy-turvy.
We took a walk around Morton Park one recent morning with a black Labrador named Luke and his human, Jerry.
They usually get out around 8 every morning, scamper through the woods for an hour or two, and then head back to their home on Little Pond. But lately that outing has become more involved.
First impressions? Morton Park is, overall, amazing. Just a stone’s throw from the highway the park comprises nearly 200 acres of woodlands, forested trails, beautiful ponds and – even for humans – plenty to do.
But lately it’s not what the humans do, it’s the human do-do, that has the dogs confused and their human companions scrambling.Jerry, translating for Luke, shared Morton Park’s dirty little secret.
“Certain groups like to congregate at various locations, socialize, do some fishing and even cook on open fires,” Jerry explained while Luke paced back and forth. “The problem is what they leave behind.”
The dogs and their owners are struggling with how to describe the issue without causing offense. The owner of Willie, a lab mix, speaking for himself, would prefer to keep it local.
“I love Morton Park,” Willie’s owner said, but “I don’t think it’s a good idea to have the paper do an article focusing on the underbelly of the park and the disgusting habits of a few gross people. That will give all readers the impression that the park is … not the beautiful place that all of us know and love.”
Most visitors to the park will come and go and never see the crap that dogs and their walkers encounter on a regular basis. To notice it, you have to take the road – and trails – less traveled.
In the more accessible areas of the park things look good.To inhibit the crowds that used to come to the park and party in the woods, especially on holidays, the town installed gates that limit access – except by foot – to many of the more remote parts of the park.
That, Jerry agreed, was a largely successful strategy. But it also means that those who still make the effort to get to the remote spots, like Hospital Point, are more than a 15-minute walk from any toilet facilities.
There are toilets at the beach on Little Pond, but they are only open when the Recreation Department has staff in place.
“They used to have outhouses back here,” Jerry said as Luke paused to take a swim at one of the more remote locations in the park, “but they removed those as well, so now groups of people come to these spots and stay a while and, when they feel the need ...”
So, Jerry and a number of other humans, who accompany their dogs into the woods, have taken it upon themselves to clean up after them.Luke let out a whimper of frustration as Jerry added, “But it’s hard to keep up.”
Who you gonna call? No, really, who are you going to call?
Part of the problem is the management of Morton Park overall. There is no one group responsible for managing the park.
It’s considered a recreation site, so it falls under the Recreation Department. That staff is responsible for the beach and the bathhouse there, including toilets for men and women. But those facilities are a long way from the problem areas and have limited hours.
The Police Department patrols the park as well, but not as frequently as some dog owners would like and, normally, not on foot.
The town’s two natural resource officers are responsible for enforcing regulations at beaches, rivers, ponds and open spaces through the town and will respond to reports of problems at Morton Park as well.
To date, though, they haven’t received any reports from dogs or their owners.
Natural Resource Warden Nate Cristofori encouraged residents of the area to use the new Park Watch program to report problems. Using a free app on your phone, you can report incidents of all kinds directly to the department within moments of seeing them.
If they get the reports, they will respond, Cristofori said, and they have the means to get to any location in town.
But the locals aren’t waiting. They have taken matters into their own hands, and paws. They’re out in force almost every day.
If you walk the back trails of Morton Park, in addition to Luke you’re likely to encounter Belle and Eva, both Vizlas; golden retrievers Parker and Bailey; yellow Labs Sadie, Sophie and Maple; black Labs Sadie, Lilly and Maggie; terriers Willy, Buddy and Gibbs; Odin, a shepherd; Remo and Otto, both Dobermans; a German pointer named Marlo; a Beagle named Little Duke; a bully bassett (half bulldog, half basset hound) named Harley; a pointer/shepherd mix named Storm; a lab mix that responds to Willie and a boxer mix by the name of Jacoby.
They still enjoy their walks in the park, but they insist that they should not have to go out of their way to avoid stepping in human waste.
That was the motivation for one dog lover, who prefers to remain anonymous, to devise a strategy that sends a message to these unleashed humans, and serves as a warning to anyone else who might be walking the trails at Morton Park.
Call it, “Gross Busters.”It’s a sign that is now posted on many of the trails at Morton Park, a sign that makes it plain that, even in these open-minded times, certain human activities just can’t be tolerated in the park.
“For the most part, we’re not bothered by the gatherings,” Jerry said, on behalf of Luke. “But when humans do this in a public park, and leave that and other trash for others to find and, in our case, clean up, you have to try something different.”
There are several of these signs posted all around the park now, with more to come.Will their message be heard?Will their howls of indignation be acknowledged?
Will visitors to the park do-do the right thing?
Follow Frank Mand on Twitter @frankmandOCM.