Unleashed dogs causing tension between owners, visitors at Amherst State Park - The Buffalo News

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Unleashed dogs causing tension between owners, visitors at Amherst State Park

It’s got to be tough being a dog.

All you want to do is run free without a leash holding you back. Then you finally get your chance, and you have the cops on your tail.

At least, that’s the situation over at Amherst State Park, where the town is having a bit of a problem with dogs – or rather dog owners who aren’t leashing their canines.

It has become a nuisance – again – for those in the park on Mill Street who are uncomfortable, if not intimidated, by strange, unleashed dogs sniffing, barking, licking or jumping at them.

“We need a better game plan on how to control the situation,” said Council Member Mark A. Manna. “We get a lot of complaints at Amherst State Park.”

In fact, the town has received enough complaints that police have been called in on the case.

“What we’re hoping to do is come up with common-sense solutions to get people to follow the rules and keep their dogs on a leash,” said Council Member Guy R. Marlette. “The last thing we want to do is say, ‘The park is off limits to dogs.’ ”

This isn’t the first time Amherst State Park has had a problem with dogs off the leash.

But can you blame the canines?

Since opening in 2003, the 80-acre park located between Glen Avenue and Sheridan Drive has been hound heaven, enticing dogs with its meadows, woods and orchards for them to romp and play.

The stipulation, however, is posted on a sign at the park entrance: Dogs must be kept on a 6-foot leash.

Complaints about unleashed dogs escalated and came to a head in 2009. The town cracked down at Amherst State Park, as police and the dog-control officer ticketed dog owners in violation.

Things calmed down for awhile.

Now, the complaints have picked back up.

“I’m standing in the water with my waders, and the dog just comes running in and almost knocks me over,” said James Bible, a Cheektowaga resident.

Bible’s canine run-in happened over the summer while he was at the park fishing in Ellicott Creek.

“The owner just looked at me and walked away like it’s nothing,” Bible recalled last week. “Nobody got hurt, but there was the potential for that.”

The town has a dog park on Smith Road in northeast Amherst for canines to run without a leash, but Amherst State Park – nestled among the residential neighborhoods just north of the Village of Williamsville – is conveniently located.

“One time, there was seven unleashed dogs,” recalled Gail Mattulke, a Williamsville resident, who complained to the town about the dog issue. “The owners were far enough away that they couldn’t prevent anything from happening if the dogs did happen to jump or bite.”

“I don’t go very much anymore,” she said.

In fact, people in the park have turned indignant when Lois Shriver asks them to leash their dogs.

The dog is friendly, she has been told.

It won’t bite, Shriver has been told.

“But who’s to say?” said Shriver, who leads a volunteer group landscaping Amherst State Park. “People are afraid they’re going to get bitten.”

Dog bites don’t appear to be a problem, but officials in Amherst – which is responsible for maintaining Amherst State Park and enforcing park rules – recently asked the Police Department to come up with a plan before the park gets more activity come spring.

That may mean hiring a part-time animal-control officer to keep on top of the leash law in town parks.

Or using undercover police officers to blitz Amherst State Park periodically.

Or restricting the time of day dogs are allowed in the park.

“I get it,” Marlette said. “You want your dog to run free. But what about the other people? The park is supposed to be available for everyone.”

email: jrey@buffnews.com

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