The Nickel Plate Trail is not only bringing new recreational opportunities for joggers, bikers and pedestrians in Fishers but some growing — and growling — pains as well.
Dog walkers are among the trail’s heavy users but recently several of them complained that they’ve had to carry mace and weapons because a pair of loose pits bull mixes menaced them and their pets several times on the trail a few blocks south of 116th Street.
Fishers Police Sgt. Tom Weger said they received seven complaints from residents in the Cheeney Creek area about the two dogs chasing other dogs on the trail and at least one incident in which a dog was bit on its tail.
Weger said the dogs were hostile to other dogs, not people, but dog walkers said they feared being bit if they had to separate fighting dogs.
The Fishers animal control officer issued warnings and three citations for failure to restrain and animal and the dogs were declared dangerous. One of the dogs was quarantined after biting a pet on the trail. The owners eventually turned them over to the Humane Society for Hamilton County.
The incidents led to some acrimonious back and forth on the Next Door app that highlighted a perhaps unexpected danger on the already popular trail, with dog walkers issuing dire alerts.
“There are two pitbulls loose on the Nickel Plate Trail – one black and one brown who started jumping on my dog,” a dogwalker posted.
Marcy Kellar, who lives four houses down from the pit bulls in the Heritage Meadows neighborhood, caught about 20 incidents on her backyard security cameras that face the trail.
The dogs can be seen running and heard barking after dogwalkers as they yell at them to get away.
“The pitbulls have been kicked, punched and maced to get them to stop,” Kellar said.
She said the attacks went on for weeks without animal control intervention because most of the pet owners didn’t report them. “I think everyone thought it was isolated so they didn’t report them,” she said.
But they sparked a fierce social media debate in the meantime.
People described being terrified as the dogs came running toward them. “I was screaming for help but no one was around,” one post read. Another dog walker said he was chased for half-a-mile by the two pit mixes.
The discussion then turned to defenses against the intruders.
“My neighbor bought a baton just so he could continue to walk on the trail,” one said.
“The fact is we carry when we walk and I will not sacrifice my life or my dog’s,” said another.
“I’d encourage others to walk with protection, as well. Whether it be legal weapon/mace/pepper spray,” said a third.
The pit bull owners, who did not respond to a request for an interview, said on the Next Door app that the dogs stayed in their yard until the Nickel Plate Trail was built.
“Our dogs never ran before that trail, not making excuses,” the owner said in one post.
“They built a trail in their back yard. Causing them to have that pack natural instinct come back,” she said in another.
The owners put up a fence in the backyard but the dogs still escaped when their children came in through the yard.
Weger said the wave of complaints are the only dog-related problems police have received on the trail so far – or problems of any sort.
Kellar said dog problems were an unexpected source of friction.
“I thought the most dangerous thing was going to be cyclists out there ruling the trail, or maybe some crime problems,” she said. “I never thought about dogs.”
City Councilor David Giffel, who represents the area, said he got an email about the dogs and made a call to police for information.
But he declined to lay blame on the newness of the Nickel Plate Trail or the unfamiliarity of the homeowners who live along it.
“That could happen anywhere, it could happen on my block,” he said of the attacks. “People have to take personal responsibility for their pets. I feel bad for the dogs.”
Hamilton Humane spokeswoman Megan Davis said the dogs were both under five years old and would be evaluated to see if they are adoptable. If they aren’t the humane society, which is a no-kill shelter, will try to find a rescue for them.