NJ town calls off the dogs. Officials let sleeping canines lie — even in public parks.


The dogs will finally get their day in Fanwood.

After months of heated debate, the six-member borough council passed an ordinance Monday night lifting a prohibition against pets in its public parks.

And just in time for the dog days of summer.

“Our tails are all wagging in delight,” said Carolyn Brink, a resident and dog owner who has been barking up the tree of council members for nearly two years.

She started a campaign to change the law after a neighbor called the police on her while she walked her dog, Beckett, in the park adjacent to her home.

Brink attended council meetings and called on elected officials to pass an amended ordinance allowing dogs in Fanwood’s parks. When that didn’t work, she canvassed the one-square mile borough in Union County and collected signatures from 780 residents who wanted the prohibition revoked. And then she started a Facebook group, Fanwood Dog Owners Group, where residents routinely share complaints about their dogs not being permitted in the public spaces.

Dog lovers got their wish before approximately two dozen people in the borough’s council chambers. The amendment was passed by a 5-1 vote, with councilwoman Patricia Walsh voting against lifting the prohibition.

“The reason is basically we have a very small town, we have very small parks and I believe instead of worrying about the dog’s rights to use the parks we should really be thinking about the people and the children and everyone that uses the park,’ Walsh said. “I know that some people think dogs may have the same rights as residents, I do not agree.”

The amendment allows dogs in Fanwood’s three public parks on the condition they are leashed, licensed, non-aggressive and do not venture into playgrounds or on basketball courts. And, of course, owners are required to “remove all feces deposited by such animals.” Anyone who violates the measure faces a $250 fine for a first offense and a $500 fine for a second offense.

After the vote, Brink, a longtime Fanwood resident, finally called off the dogs. She planned to celebrate by walking her beloved Beckett in the park shortly after the vote passed.

“Tonight’s the result of a really big community conversation about allowing dogs into the park and there have been strong opinions on both sides,” Mayor Colleen Mahr told NJ Advance Media. “But I think the governing body has put forth an ordinance that takes a lot of concerns into account. They’re willing to allow dogs in the parks under certain conditions and in certain places and let’s just see how it goes.”

NJ Advance Media first reported on the hot-button issue, detailing a heated debate that pitted neighbor against neighbor. The report told the tale of a group of Fanwood dog lovers who hoped to change ordinance 118-23B, which read: “No dog, except a guide dog accompanying a blind or otherwise disabled person, is permitted in any public park of the Borough of Fanwood, regardless of whether such dog is controlled by a leash.”

Phyllis Mahoney is among the Fanwood residents opposed to rescinding of the ordinance.

“Dogs and children really should not be allowed to play together, and there are many dogs that are on that playground, sometimes on that playground equipment, at the same time as the children,” Mahoney told the council during a public portion of the meeting. “Dogs carry disease, flas, they’re not clean, and you never know what a dog is thinking. These parks are made for our children, and these children deserve a safe environment to play in.”

But fellow resident Gary Morris countered that argument, telling the all-Democratic board: “We see kids and adults misbehaving in parks, we don’t ban kids and adults in the parks. It’s something we can all figure out.”

Larry Cohen echoed that point.

“The character of this town has always celebrated diversity, emphasized inclusion and demanded tolerance,” he said. “I’ve always thought the message from the town officials has always been to recognize one another’s differences and work together to overcome that. In passing this ordinance, not only will you enforce that reputation you will add to that.”

Katherine Mitchell was among the council-members who said the ordinance isn’t set in stone.

“We will be looking at this ordinance in x-amount of time,” she said. “I can assure you that if the police and the department public works complain to us that people are abusing this law, I will be the one to say,” (Let’s) review this law and may we rescind it.’ ”

Erin McElroy Barker, who introduced the ordinance, said the restrictions in the bill “will go a long way to making it a safe and manageable situation.”

While the large majority of municipalities in New Jersey are dog-friendly, Fanwood was one of only four Union County towns — Linden, Roselle Park and Springfield — with a restriction against pets in their bylaws.

Brink lauded the board for lifting the prohibition, expressing relief that the council members rewarded her 19 months of lobbying efforts.

“I mean, what is that in dog years?” she fitted shortly after the vote. “There’s that (song), ‘Who let the dogs out.'” Well, it looks like Fanwood is letting the dogs in. I think today you can call us Fan-woof.”

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Keith Sargeant may be reached at ksargeant@njadvancemedia.com.

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