Effort to build dog park back on track

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Rocky Vitale feeds treats to Tank and Moose, his Great Danes at his home last week. After two years of inaction, Vitale is resuscitating the plan to build a dog park in the borough. –RA ARCHIVE
Rocky Vitale feeds treats to Tank and Moose, his Great Danes at his home last week. After two years of inaction, Vitale is resuscitating the plan to build a dog park in the borough. –RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — For years, Rocky Vitale has been leading an effort to get a dog park built in the borough.

Yet Vitale would not bring his two-year-old Great Dane, named Moose, to the park.

“Moose can be a little bit aggressive with other dogs,” said Vitale, a longtime school board member. “That’s part of the responsibility of owning dogs.”

The drive to install a dog park began in 2009 but was held up for about two years over that question — who would be held accountable if a dog injured another person or dog at a municipal park?

The borough’s finance department and insurance broker have investigated the issue and concluded the borough would not be held accountable, Mayor Robert Mezzo said. Under state law, owners are responsible for any injury or damage caused by their dogs.

Now that the insurance issue has been cleared up, Vitale is moving forward. He is planning to hold a meeting soon with others interested in helping raise money for the park. At least 40 people have expressed interest, he said.

“I don’t want this to be looked at as simply a dog park,” Vitale said. “This is a people park for people who happen to have dogs.”

Vitale does have another two-year-old Great Dane, Moose’s brother Tank, who he said is docile enough to bring to a dog park

Vitale wants the dog park to span at least one acre but said he is hoping for three. It would be fully enclosed and contain a separate enclosed area for small or shy dogs.

Depending on the money raised, the park could also contain benches, trees, decorations or ramps for the dogs to play on, Vitale said.

“I would like to see this being done without using taxpayer money,” said Vitale, who is running for burgess.

Vitale estimates a one-time cost of nearly $26,000 for fencing, signs and waste cans. The cost of paving a driveway and parking lot has not yet been determined. Volunteers would help maintain the park, Vitale said.

Vitale hopes to fund the park through donations and possibly state grants. The next step, he said, is to form a nonprofit organization that would manage the money and operate as a dog park advisory board under the direction of the park commission.

The park could be used for police dog demonstrations, programs for seniors, educational seminars, dog licensing and meet-and-greets with animal control officers, Vitale said.

To avoid the problem of acquiring land, Vitale is proposing the park be located on borough-owned land. Sites considered in the past include the Naugatuck Heights property behind the police department, Brittany Woods, land on Field Street behind Baummer Pond, open space at Apple Hill Estates and land behind Fairchild Park.

The park commission is trying to convert some vacant borough land, including the Apple Hill Estates parcel, into ball fields, but Chairman Jay Kuczenski said space could be found for a dog park.

“I think there will be a place for it,” Kuczenski said. “We need a place for the dogs to go and socialize with other dogs and just for them to get exercise.”

Dogs are allowed now at Baummer Pond and Linden Park, but they must be kept on a leash.

Southbury has a dog park, and others are in the works in Cheshire and Wolcott. A dog park could attract visitors from outside the borough, stimulating local businesses, Vitale said.

“It’s one more amenity for the town to offer,” Vitale said. “It’s important to socialize dogs. Otherwise you have problems with aggressive behavior and barking.”