Cheektowaga is letting most of its parks go to the dogs.
Town Board members Monday reversed a 45-year-old ban on dog walking in Cheektowaga parks, approving a measure that allows leashed canines to roam over about 122 acres of town land.
The measure opens up 15 of the town's 17 parks for dog walking. It will take effect April 1.
But the town's crown-jewel parks, John C. Stiglmeier Park on Losson Road and Cheektowaga Town Park on Harlem Road, will continue to be off-limits to man's best friend.
That caveat drew sharp criticism from Tom Albrechcinski, who with his wife, Pat, spearheaded an effort last year to open up all of the parks, including and especially Stiglmeier, to leashed dogs.
"Every other park in Western New York allows that, and if it were a problem they would have banned it by now," said Albrechcinski, who lives a couple of miles from Stiglmeier Park and would like to walk his German shepherd there. "To me it's a slap in the face what they're doing now. They're acting sort of as autocrats, protecting their little jewel."
Albrechcinski challenged the board to allow the people of Cheektowaga to decide the matter in a referendum vote.
"If the majority says no, I'll live with that," he said.
Cheektowaga's dog ban attracted little attention until the Albrechcinskis made an issue of it and attracted sizable support from other residents.
The measure, approved by a 6-1 vote, provoked considerable debate at earlier town board meetings, with residents arguing on both sides whether dogs should be allowed in parks.
Opponents of the measure cited concerns about dog feces and safety, while supporters pointed out that parks in other towns where dogs are allowed have not experienced trouble.
Supervisor Mary F. Holtz said the approved resolution was a compromise to help the town get some experience with allowing dogs.
"We want to see how these other parks work out first," said Holtz. "The town, not having dog walking at all for over 50 years, we want to take small steps."
The resolution will expire Dec. 31. The board will reevaluate the issue later in the year and decide whether to make the amendment to its park ordinance permanent, said Holtz.
Patricia A. Jaworowicz was the lone board member to vote against the measure.
"I have a feeling it will start out fine, but things will start to slide downhill," she said.
Jaworowicz expressed concern that the town would be put in the position of having to hire someone to clean up after dogs when owners neglect their duties. The measure requires that dog owners clean up after their dogs and properly dispose of feces.
"I know there will be people who will comply, but there will be others who don't comply," she said.