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Buffalo News,   May 14, 2002  by Harold McNeil

      Would Amherst State Park end up going to the dogs if the leash law is suspended?

       If some dog owners in the town have their way, man's best friend will have a designated area of the park to roam free. However, opponents of that idea say the dog owners are barking up the wrong tree.

       Both sides made their views known in Amherst Town Hall on Monday during a public hearing on the draft master plan for the 85-acre park off Mill Street.

       Dog owner Marti J. Precurato-Grubb of Audubon Drive made an appeal for the plan to include either a designated or fenced-in area of the park to accommodate unleashed dogs. Besides allowing dogs to exercise and socialize freely with other canines, Precurato-Grubb said, such an area would provide other benefits that would enhance safety in the park.

       "There are a number of other dog owners who frequent the park at varying times throughout the day. Because of this constant dog-owner traffic, there is a secondary effect which discourages illicit congregation and suspect activity in the park," she said.

       But Eileen Torre of Woodbury Drive said she feels threatened by the prospect of unleashed dogs in the park.

       "I do not go down to the park anymore because of these dogs," Torre said, referring to the practice of owners letting their dogs roam free despite the leash law.

       As a member of the Amherst State Park Advisory Committee, which advises the town and state on the park, Torre said she collected more than 5,000 signatures in support of proposed upgrades.

       "It's so upsetting to me because I put so much work into this," she said. "This is not a dog park. This park is meant for the people of Amherst and future generations to enjoy."

       Officials of the town and the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation made no decision Monday on the dog owners' request. The deadline for public comment on the draft master plan and draft environmental-impact statement is June 3.

       The state and the town each allocated $2.5 million of the purchase of the former St. Mary of the Angels Convent grounds north of Williamsville in January 2000. The park was created under a management agreement between the town and the state for both passive recreation and conservation uses that are recommended in the draft master plan.

       Robert C. Walter, senior landscape architect with the Amherst Planning Department, said area dog owners have recently organized and lobbied town lawmakers to include in the plan a recommendation for a no-leash zone in the park. Walter said a part of the park west of Ellicott Creek has informally been used for that purpose since the park was owned by the Sisters of St. Francis. The town currently enforces the leash law, he said.

       Ellen Calnan of Rinewalt Street is a member of a newly formed steering committee seeking to establish a section of the park for unleashed dogs and their owners, similar to those in Rochester, Toronto and New York City.

       "We know that there's a lot of logistics that need to be worked out, mainly in the area of liability," Calnan said. "If we could have a dog park, that would be a feather in our cap because it's the progressive communities that have this."

       Mary Carol Dearing, of Howard Avenue, said unleashed dogs spoil the park for her.

       "I feel bad that this is a park in my backyard that I would like to enjoy the beauty of, but I feel intimidated to," Dearing said.

       Vic Paquet of Howard Avenue said that those who do not own dogs would have to assume a certain risk going into the park unless unleashed dogs were restricted to a fenced-in area. "If something happened, it would be harder to prove negligence on the part of the dog owner," he said.

       Paquet said that according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, one in 50 people are bitten by dogs each year across the country, and one in six dog bites require medical attention. Children, he said, are three times more likely than adults to be bitten by a dog.

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