Unleashed Dogs Spark Debate About Essex Land Trust Property

Essex locals are caught in a hot debate about dogs and leashes at Cross Lots Essex Land Trust Property. Because the land is privately owned, the town of Essex ordinance in regard to “leash laws” does not apply and some are fed up with what they are saying are “out of control dogs”.

Roderick Seurattan, who is currently living adjacent to the Cross Lots property, posted on social media about his frustration with the trust property and how it is being used by locals. That post attracted over 100 comments and ignited a debate about what the policy should be on the property when it comes to dogs and leashes.

Seurattan, who has lived in Essex for two years, has trained his 12 year-old Egyptian Mau cat Milo to walk on a leash. However, he doesn’t feel comfortable taking his cat on a walk at Cross Lots. According to Seurattan, the majority of dogs there are off leash and out of control.

“Dogs at Cross Lots are not under control and I feel like there should be a rule,” said Seurattan. “I think the Essex Land Trust should simply say that all dogs on Land Trust property need to be on a leash. Its unfair to people who want to use the Land Trust properties and don’t want to be jumped on by loose dogs.”

State Statute Sec. 22-364 regarding “Dogs Roaming At Large,” states in part, that no owner or keeper of any dog shall allow such dog to roam at large upon the land and not under control of the owner or keeper. The general statutes do not mandate that dogs be on leashes at all times. But a dog’s owner or keeper must not allow it to roam on another person’s land or on a public highway, including sidewalks, if the animal is not under control. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection also requires that owners keep their dogs leashed in state parks. Violating the state roaming law is an infraction punishable by a fine of $92.

The Town of Essex adopted a leash law at a special town meeting on June 15, 2005. The ordinance states in part; “It shall be unlawful for any person owning, keeping, walking or in control of any dog or other animal to take such animal on to property owned or controlled by the Town of Essex for park purposes, unless such dog or other animal is carried by such person, or is controlled by such person by a leash, cord, chain or like restraint.”

However, because Cross Lots is privately owned by the Essex Land Trust, the town ordinance is not enforceable on the property.

Members of the Essex Land Trust board are aware of the controversy about dogs off leash and about the animal waste being left behind there, said Jim Denham communications director for the trust.

“We would like to educate people in a responsible way that the onus of their animals is on them,” said Denham. “During the COVID situation, the intensity of use of our properties has increased greatly especially at Cross Lots, because it is so centrally located.”

However, Seurattan and his wife Kyra Seurattan, who grew up in town, said this behavior from dog owners at Cross Lots is nothing new.

“Back in the 90s the land was used for concerts and picnics. It was beautiful. But, over the past decade the place has become more popular and now it seems that people take their dogs there for playdates, off leash all the time,” she said. “Its unfortunate because I think it takes away from everyone being able to enjoy the area.”

One neighbor of the property claimed on social media that she had to finally put up a fence on her own property to stop loose dogs from running through her yard.

Long time Essex resident Sigrun Deman Morano said that she has been frequenting Cross Lots for several years, with her children when they were young, with her small dog and just on walks by herself, and she has never had a problem.

“Honestly, it is not that crowded there,” said Sigrun. “I used to take the kids there when they were little to go sledding and there were always kids and dogs running around. It was great. I also used to take my Chihuahua there all the time. I never had any dogs approach us. I actually had to keep her on a leash because she was aggressive, but I never had dogs off leash approach us aggressively.”

Denham is in the midst of making signs that will be posted at the property that state: “Dogs must be under control at all times. Control means that your dog is within sight and hearing and will respond instantly to commands. Always have leash ready. If your dog does not respond, leash up when passing or approaching others until out of range. Your dog should not be allowed to approach another person or dog, unless invited. Dogs are not allowed to roam or enter abutters property. Do not let dogs chase wildlife.”

“The land trust follows the guidelines set forth by the state in regard to leash laws. The state does not have a specific leash law, instead it states that dogs need to be under the control of the handler at all times. Nothing states specifically that dogs have to be on leash. We follow this legal basis,” said Denham.

He added, “The vast majority of the people who visit our properties keep their dogs on a leash and under control. The problem is that the intensity of the number of people visiting the property has increased and some of those people think the rules do not apply to them. It’s practically impossible to handle this situation unless we had police on the property.”

Denham said that moving forward the Essex Land Trust intends to educate people, get new signs up and put the onus back on dog owners.

“This is for the good of everyone, so that everyone can enjoy the properties as they were intended to be, for enjoyment,” said Denham.

Currently the Essex Land Trust has 23 properties in town, on over 650 acres. They were gifted the 15 acres of property at Cross Lots in the 1980s by Harriet Cheney Downing.

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