Baltimore County has put dog owners whose pets romp unleashed on the grounds of Rodgers Forge Elementary School and adjacent Dumbarton Middle School on notice.
Towson precinct police officers and county Animal Control officers are ticketing owners of dogs in violation of the leash law in response to "complaints received from those who use the athletic fields" between the two schools, according to an email by Sgt. Stephen Fink.
The first offense is $30 and repeat offenders may net a fine of up to $150, according to Animal Control.
But if there have been complaints abut the dogs, there now are complaints about the ticketing.
"I think it's terrible," said Bobbie Fields, who has lived across the alley from Dumbarton Middle for 48 years and has been bringing her dogs there for years.
"They gave one to my 12-year-old neighbor after her dog escaped from their yard and she was in tears," Fields said.
At any given time after 4 p.m., there can be three or four dogs or as many as 15 running loose, chasing balls or playing with each other as their owners socialize, cluster in groups and chat or walk the grounds.
"It's been such a pleasure for the dogs and the people," Fields said.
Fifth District County Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson, said Monday that his office has occasionally received complaints about dogs running loose, but he has received "a lot of emails from people who are upset that Animal Control is enforcing the leash law."
The county law requiring a dog to be leashed when off its owner's property is clear. But those who use the Rogers Forge grounds say the school field, with its rolling acres of athletic fields, grassy expanses and shade trees, has been an unofficial dog park on evenings and weekends for more than 20 years.
"People were not complaining to us in the past," Fink wrote. But now they are, he said, with calls to 911 and Animal Control and with letters sent to the police department.
"At issue," he said, "are safety and health concerns."
Adults as well as juveniles do not know how friendly or dangerous some of these dogs may be, Fink said, and when these dogs relieve themselves, their owners are not right there to clean up, so feces are left on the ground.
"Pet owners need to have their pets on leashes when outside their homes ... and they need to pick up after their pets. Failure to abide to these laws can result in citations, court appearances and fines."
Responses to Fink's letter — posted by the community's Forge Flyer website in recent days — make a case for both sides:
"Good! It's about time. I have a dog and never let him run off leash. ... I knew the rule when I got him. I just wish others didn't consider themselves exempt."
"I had a dog almost attack me while playing tennis on the courts behind Dumbarton. If It had gotten any closer, I would of had to defend myself with the only thing I had, which was my racket. …
"I have been taking my dogs to Dumbarton Middle almost every day for over 11 years. I have made so many friends there over the years and continue to. … It makes me sad that people and dogs cannot co-exist with others who also use the grounds — mostly the fields where we don't go — for other activities."
"The last time I took a walk to just say 'hi' was the day some jerk's dog charged my daughter at the playground ... and scared … her."
"It saddens me. ... It has been an institution for a very, very long time and, if I know you, I will miss you. I encourage you and others to continue to go there, even it means keeping your dog on a leash. "
A dog park in Robert E. Lee Park is set to open this fall. Marks said Monday he was willing to pursue a dog park for Towson, but the more logical location, he said, would be the Loch Raven area closer to the center of the district.
He said a dog park planned for Perry Hall is moving forward because of the groundswell of support for it.
"They are very well organized," he said.
He would need that same groundswell of support and degree of organization for a Towson dog park — and money from a strapped county to pay for it and volunteers to maintain it, he said.
The Perry Hall concept is being driven by volunteers from Pets on Wheels who will raise money for fencing and set up a volunteer organization.
"The only way I can convince the Department of Recreation and Parks to support a dog park is if the county money would be minimal — essentially just the land — and if there is a strong grass-roots effort to help with the park," Marks said.
He also said organizers of a dog park would be competing with recreation councils who are perpetually short of space for sports activities.
"That's a big challenge," he said.