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.