New Canaan to Track Dog Owners Using Spencer’s Run

Most of those who have registered for the "swipe card" entrance system to be installed this summer at the Waveny dog park are from out of town, officials say.


Nearly two-thirds of those registered for the new “swipe card” system to be installed this summer at New Canaan’s dog park are from out of town, officials say.

Since registration opened Oct. 1, 245 dog owners have signed up for the cards, which people will need to use starting July 1 to get into Spencer’s Run, according to New Canaan Recreation Director Steve Benko, whose department is overseeing the program.

About 60 to 65 percent of those registrants are non-residents—a figure which reflects what officials already knew anecdotally about use of the 1.5-acre dog park located near Waveny’s Lapham Road entrance, Benko said.

Named for Spencer Plavoukos, a longtime resident and dog-lover who was killed together with his yellow Labrador "Bo" in 2005, Spencer’s Run has emerged as one of lower Fairfield County’s most heavily used dog parks. So much so that it needs a system that will help the town ensure users are complying with rules (attached as PDF), Benko said.

“A lot of people don’t care about the rules,” Benko said. “They think, ‘I’m here on my own time and I just won’t come back if I don’t want to.’ So, hopefully this will build some better comradeship [among users]. I think it will cut down on the number of complaints.”

Those complaints include the presence of unneutered males, dog fights and dog bites, according to New Canaan Police Officer Mary Ann Kleinschmitt, head of the department’s Animal Control unit.

“We need this because of the inability of Animal Control to address the problems going on there,” she told Patch. “Anybody and everybody is going in there, and the only thing required was that the dogs are licensed in the town where they live.”

That’s all changing very soon. Under the new system, New Canaan officials will be able to retrieve a digital snapshot of which dog owners have entered the park at certain times. As it is, if there’s a problem at the park, dog owners can just up and leave before Animal Control arrives. Once the system is in place, an electronic record of those owners will be on file.

Even ahead of the July swipe card rollover, dog owners in about one week will need a four-digit code to enter Spencer’s Run. Obtained from the Recreation Department, those codes are free for registrants to obtain and are integrated with the swipe card syste to be installed this summer.

Dog owners, both town residents and out-of-towners, told Patch they welcome the change.

"I think it's a good idea," Karla Walsh of New Canaan said on a recent morning as she exited Spencer's Run with her 18-month-old German Shepherd dog, Harley. She was joined by Darien residents Marty Hendrickson and Jennie Foresta who brought their own dogs—one-year-old golden retriever Charlie, and 2-year-old Bernese Mountain dog Bella, respectively.

Here's what Hendrickson said: "When I first started coming here, I heard a lot of stories about people abusing the park rules, so I like what they're planning."

Benko said the town will modify the dog park’s gates so that a lock assembly can be mounted to them.

“Once that’s done we can activate the system,” Benko said. Those with four-digit codes will be emailed as July approaches with a reminder about purchasing the swipe cards.

The cards are expected to be available June 1. They’ll run $25 per year for town residents and $40 for non-residents. That’s for one dog. An additional dog will cost $15 apiece.

The town pays about $5 for each swipe card, Benko said.

An application for a swipe card requires not only owner and canine names and contact information but also information on the dogs’ breed, town and license number, rabies vaccination and veterinarian.

The application, which swipe card holders must sign, also indemnifies New Canaan against legal action should a problem in the dog park arise.

Dave February 01, 2013 at 12:35 PM
Is this not a Violation of human Privacy act 1998? The park is a public place but while putting a slid card to get in plus Registration make it no longer a public place
Chris February 01, 2013 at 09:41 PM
This is what happens when small-minded people get a little bit of power. It reminds me of the co-op boards in NYC... This is a public space and should be enjoyed in a responsible manner without undue cost. I have never had a problem with my dog at the Spencer's Run. When problems arise between dogs (as has happened in the past and will continue to occur in this sort of setting - in spite of the new system), we need to be adults and work it out as do in the rest of our lives. But no, apparently when we are with our dogs at Spencer's Run, require a nanny to supervise us. No, this is about someone setting arbitrary rules and wanting more power to enforce them. Additionally, the neutering requirement is too arbitrary. Some of my friends who breed their dogs are now effectively banned even though their dogs have no behavioral problems. We are requiring our dog owners to force their pets to undergo a painful and expensive operation and live in an unnatural state if they want to use a public space for dogs. Doctor Paul Potenza at the New Canaan Veterinary Hospital was horrified when I told him about this requirement even though he stands to gain from it. The only requirement that needs to be put in place in this regard is that owners of intact females need to keep their dogs out of the park when they are in heat (if they don't want to risk pregnancy or unwanted attention). Just common sense. This is why people in other towns shake their heads at us.
TP February 01, 2013 at 10:33 PM
Agree 1000 percent ! this is a needless intrusion and a waste of money and time. Bureaucrats running amok. Its mostly due to rampant anthropomorphism - people treat their dogs like people (better that people usually) so a dog trying to play with your dog in a way you don't approve (e.g. an attempted humping) becomes a personal attack meriting strict policing. My dog just laughed when I read him the new regulations. He Tweeted a funny comment about it that went viral !
Glen K Dunbar February 02, 2013 at 04:26 PM
First, Pauly and crew at New Canaan Vet are TOPS to me A+ Great crew there. I LOVE them all As for this rule. Why are grown ups always making up dumb rules for us (mostly ME) to follow Wish I could bring my Dogs there. Wish my dogs could be trained. Wish my wife would walk the dogs. WIsh I had a life.
Paul M Potenza February 02, 2013 at 08:03 PM
You know, I must agree with Chris and thank you Glen....BTW you have a life...you have a very lovely wife who is always a pleasure to see. If anyone has read my other posts, you know how I feel about governmental control, and yes, a non-neutered dog does not necessarily equal an aggressive dog, nor does a neutered dog necessarily equal a non-aggressive dog. When the Park was up for consideration before the Town Council, I went there to support it. The members of the Council seemed not to want the park. One Town Servant even threatened the group with its closure for some reason I do not remember. You can read the transcript if you like, but at that time I was shocked at te rudeness of this individual. (Since then, I have experienced similar attitudes from some Town Departments (( certainly others are wonderful)) , and I realize that some of the powers that be believe we exist at their whim, even though the tax bill we citizens pay would suggest the opposite.) Ultimately, the park was allocated 1/4 to 1/3 of the original acreage that the citizens wanted, and I have always believed that much of the injuries have been the result of overcrowding in the park. So now we have several Animal Control Officers (Marianne Kleinschmidt was the sole replacement for George Cogswell when he retired) and a number of rules designed to punish the dog or the owner or both if something goes wrong at the Park.
Paul M Potenza February 02, 2013 at 08:10 PM
I wonder if the dog population in New Canaan has so exploded in the past 15 to 20 years to warrant such a huge increase in administrative and police oversight, or whether this is a sign of the times. I can tell you that I have not noticed such an increase, but perhaps Claudia Weber would be able to answer that better than I could. In any event, it is a sign of the times. We are either too litigious a people nowadays, or government has gone too far. So, punish the dog owners who don't have 1+acres of land and need to use the park because they cannot go off leash anywhere else. My suggestion? There are some really great parks in other towns that are larger and less micromanaged.
Chris February 03, 2013 at 06:39 PM
I agree with you Paul, but it's the 'love it or leave it' mentality among our town council that needs to change, not us. This is our town. We chose to live here and we pay for that right. A part of what should come with that is reasonable access to our public dog run at our public park. We shouldn't allow ourselves to be driven our of our own town when the resources we have here just need better management.
Four Jacks February 03, 2013 at 06:46 PM
Did anyone read the article? Two thirds are from out of town. I suggest free registration for town residents, and a fee for non-residents. This is common for many fees in Fairfield County. Then, if out of town residents know of a better park in their own town, they are welcome to use their own park, for which they are already paying taxes, as we are for Spencer's Run.
Chris February 03, 2013 at 07:07 PM
Four Jacks, as long as Waveny is a public park (with no fee charged), I feel strongly that Spencer's Run should be the same. 98% of the time there are no overcrowding issues at the dog park. I think this whole initiative is partly motivated by an elitist desire to keep out 'undesireables' (i.e. those from out-side New Canaan).
Four Jacks February 03, 2013 at 09:40 PM
We also have a public pool, for which we charge users only, so how is Spencer's run different? Just wondering?
Paul M Potenza February 04, 2013 at 06:40 PM
I'm with you, Chris. I guess I am just too jaded when it comes to fighting Town Hall. government is there to do something, and by gosh they'll do it whether it makes sense or not.
Paul M Potenza February 04, 2013 at 06:44 PM
Four Jacks. I was under the impression that the town pool was for residents only, and that residents could bring guests in for a fee if they wish. I'm wondering how this is different as well. Similarly, in Westport and Greenwich there is a fee for using the beaches in season. I guess the local government has the right to charge user fees if it wishes??
Glen K Dunbar February 04, 2013 at 06:46 PM
Why do out of town folks visit this park anyhow??? Not that I am complaining. It is just they could go to Stamford or someplace like that. I still say I wish someone would train my dogs for me for free so I can bring my dogs out like EVERYBODY else does and is allowed to do. Glen...he is always a follower and never a leader. UNFAIR Always a pauper never a Prince. Stinks!!!!
Chris February 04, 2013 at 07:25 PM
To me, the difference is that Spencer's Run is endowed and supported by donations. The primary purpose of the new fees and registration process are to present barriers to entry that will make it less likely to be used on a casual basis or by 'outsiders'. The pool requires a fee in order to remain fund its operation. If it were similarly endowed, I don't think the pool fee would be necessary. As to limiting the pool to residents only, I'm not sure I support that either except that the resident demand is so high that opening it up to non-residents would cause overcrowding. Last I heard, their are only a limited number of pool passes sold each year in order to prevent crowding and the demand from New Canaan residents exceeds the number of available passes.
Four Jacks February 04, 2013 at 07:46 PM
I didn't realize that Spencer's Run was endowed. I see your point of view, perhaps they should have the swipe system with no fee? So you're okay with 60 percent of users being from out of town and supporting that with the endowment and property taxes?
Paul M Potenza February 04, 2013 at 08:23 PM
Thanks Chris. That makes sense. Is Spencer's Run truly endowed? If not, would it be shut down for lack of funding if the donations ceased? If so, I think the Town's idea of charging a fee for its use is even more inappropriate, at least not without the aquiescence of the group that manages the donations Is the real reason for issuing a swipe card an effort to indemnify the Town against liability? Four Jack's idea of a swipe card with no fee and limited issue might solve a lot of problems, except for the fact that New Canaan property tax payers who want to casually use the park would be unable to. I personally use the park once every 1-2 years so I myself would be shut out. And yes, four Jacks, I wouldn't mind if 60% of users were out of town. The original Spencer's Run proponenets made no distinction regarding the type of people (or dogs for that matter) who wouldhave access to the park. Aside from that, while I am fortunate to be able to live and work in New Canaan, I would have a difficult time restricting others from using public space. I have a real problem with that which I consider to be an elitist stance.
Chris February 05, 2013 at 04:32 AM
From what I hear, it is endowed. The plaques around the park displaying donor names seems to suggest this as well. I can't speak to what would happen if the donations ceased. Perhaps the town would step in and maintain it, but I don't know... Again, I'm ok with 60% of users being from out of town as long as there isn't an overcrowding issue. I love that Waveny, including Spencer's Run, has always been open to the public - residents and non residents alike. Similarly, I appreciate the free access to Central Park when I'm in NYC - even though I am no longer a Manhattan resident. So, my preference would be to keep the park as it has been for years, without an entry system of any kind unless there is a crowding issue. I am not always at the park, so I don't know about all the incidents that have occurred, but I am there fairly often and I have not seen anything serious myself. As I mentioned before, it is rarely crowded.
mary parker February 05, 2013 at 07:37 AM
I think the swipe system is a good idea but don't think New Canaan residents should have to pay a fee, just out of towner's. New Canaan residents pay taxes to upkeep our town parks ect. so that should be our fee but out of towners should be charged. The swipe card is a great way of making sure all dogs are vaccinated and liscenced. And will also track down dog attacks that happen and the owners run away before the Police get there. What I am upset about is according to Animal Control, there is an ordinence that says no one is allowed to be in any New Canaan Town Park that is making money while in the park. So even though I live in New Canaan and pay taxes, I am not allowed to take a persons dog who lives in New Canaan to Spencer's Run if they pay me to do that. Yet baby sitters and nannies are getting paid to bring other peoples children to the park to play, swim, ect. That is "Discrimination" to me. I am babysitting someones dog and asked to bring it to the park to play yet I will get a ticket. Aren't baby sitters of kids and nannies paid also?
mary parker February 05, 2013 at 07:53 AM
I am confussed o this ordinence? What is the difference between me babysitting a residents dog and a nanny or babysitter bringing kids to a park in New Canaan? A dog owner who lives in New Canaan isn't even allowed to bring their do to the park with a dog trainer to train their dog. Seriously? Why? Yet Waveney House can rent out the Mansion for weddings ect. and a caterer is hired to feed the guest at the Mansion and get paid for their services. Aren't the caterers making money on town property? And with the swipe card, I am allowed to be on the owners card as a person allowed to bring the owners dog into Spencer's Run yet Animal Control say's if I am caught in there with the owners dog, using their card I get a ticket and the card owner loses their card? I think I should challenge this ordinence that is discriminating dog sitter's and not enforcing all other babysitter's, nannies, caterer's ect..... It needs to be rewritten to allow all sitter's whether it is kids or dogs to have access to our parks.
feo mesics February 05, 2013 at 02:39 PM
As they say, it's not the dog, its the DOG OWNER who is the problem usually. Dog OWNERS, especially new canaan ones seem to think that they are entitled to have a dog park, when in fact, it is a privilege that can be removed for bad, uncivil, or illlegal behavior. Many dog owners remind me of smokers in the past who thought it was ok to wave a cigarette in your (non-smoker) face as they were talking. Similar to letting dogs run off leash or letting your leashed dog jump up and slobber on someone, or even worse, someone's child. People pay swim in the pool, use the Carriage Barn or Waveny House and set up sports fields ... so why not for the "rental" and maintenance of the cesspool dog park? Dog park rules and dog/owner identification are now required because many dog OWNERS don't know how to behave in a civil way. Maybe dog OWNERS should be governed the same way cigarette smokers are now?


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