Petition calls for off-leash hours for dogs in Princeton public parks

Princeton resident Calvin Chin has begun a petition calling on Princeton officials to allow dogs to be off leashes in some Princeton parks during certain hours of the day.

The municipality does not allow dogs to be off-leash in public parks, and the town does not have a dog park. At least three council members promoted the creation of a dog park in town when campaigning, but a dog park never materialized. Plainsboro, West Windsor, and Pennington all have dog parks. Mercer County also operates the Mercer County Bark Park at the Mercer County Park in West Windsor.

“Dogs (and their owners) would welcome the opportunity to gather in community, and allow their pets to run free with each other,” reads the Change.org petition for off-leash hours in Princeton parks that has been signed by about 300 people as of Oct. 25.

“The pandemic has highlighted how important it is to provide outdoor spaces for people to gather in community. Many cities (e.g., Brooklyn) have prescribed areas and times which allow dogs to be off-leash,” reads the petition. “We request that Princeton designate specific areas and hours where dogs can be permitted off-leash.”

The Princeton Council was slated to discuss the issue at the council’s public meeting on Zoom Monday night, but the issue has been pushed back to the council’s Nov. 8 agenda.


  1. People seem to have their dogs off leash all the time around princeton in my experience, and I struggle with it. Allowing your dog to run up to a jogger in the woods or while reading on PU campus is off-putting and anxiety-inducing. If there isn’t a dog park, then follow the rules and keep your dogs on leash.

  2. We need more enforcement of state leashing laws. I have had numerous negative encounters with unleashed dogs while walking in local parks with children. Owners can be belligerent, and often refuse to leash their animals when asked. Leashes save kids’ lives. Dog attacks are very real with nearly 5 million children bitten in the US annually.

    See some of the outreach and work on the topic done at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia:


  3. I am all for a dog park and had volunteered to be on a committee to form one for Princeton. As far as I know, nothing ever progressed. Allowing off leash dogs in other areas is not a good idea.

  4. If you read the petition, it sounds like they are asking for specific hours that would allow dogs off leash and it would be limited to certain areas. This would seem to be a win/win because people who don’t like dogs could avoid the park at those times and it would allow people with dogs the ability to let them play.

  5. I’m sorry some of you have had negative run-ins with dogs. However, having designated off-leash hours (and eventually hopefully a fenced-in dog park in town) will help avoid those kinds of run-ins. At the moment the closest dog park is a 15-minute drive from downtown, a distance just not feasible for people to get to every day. A lot of people in town don’t have big back yards for dogs to get proper exercise, and there’s really no substitute for just allowing dogs to run around. Off-leash hours will make it so dog owners have a space to exercise their dogs, hopefully making it so people aren’t letting their dogs off leash just anywhere. In addition, properly socialized dogs are less scared of humans and other animals, making it so dogs in the community learn to interact with beings other than their household.

  6. Couldn’t agree with this need more! A designated dog park and/or off leash hours should be available in Princeton, rather than a minimum 20 minutes away! Think it would be a huge add to the community.

  7. It’s time for the council and parks/rec department to give the need for a dedicated fenced in dog park more than just lip service! The community has been asking for this for years (I know because my son presented a dog park petition and research to then borough council about 8 years ago). Issues facing council like affordable housing, zoning restrictions, PILOT payments, etc are complicated. Finally dedicating the efforts to creating a dedicated dog park should be relatively easy (and non-controversial). Rosedale and Grover parks immediately come to mind as potential locations.

  8. The 2019 dog park initiative was stalled due to covid but is back on track. If you perceive that people with dogs should have a safe place to run them and to socialize with other dog families, support a dog park in town. If you are concerned primarily about humans running on our sidewalks, support both a dog park and bicycle lanes.

    Dog parks benefit everyone: people who share their lives with dogs have dedicated spaces, people who like but don’t own dogs have a place to interact with them, and people who prefer to avoid dogs will see fewer of them.

    Princeton is proud of its inclusive, diverse and welcoming attitudes. It’s time to add a dog park to our many local resources and to embrace our dog-inclusive families as welcome members of our community.

  9. I don’t think they should have off leash hours. Will owners clean up after their dogs? I have seen dogs run up and scare children at various parks in Princeton and some owners do nothing. I have neighbors walk their dogs on or off leash by my home and many do not pick up the poop. It’s gross. I have to go out and ask them to pick it up. There are plenty of excuses including only having one bag or being on their phone and not seeing. Curb your dog, bring multiple bags and pick up the poop.

    I was a dog owner years ago including in Princeton (without a car). I took her for extra long leashed walks or ran with her on a leash. Also lived in a city and walked 15+ minutes to the closest dog park. The dog park in Skillman is about a 12-15 minute drive from downtown.

    I think a dog park would be a better idea but the town needs to really think about it. How will this be paid for? Maybe have people sign a waiver to enter the dog park. My hometown added a dog park and the first week a dog bit someone and that person sued the town. They closed the dog park.

  10. In my experience a lot of dog owners do not respect the leash laws in Princeton. If you have a need for your dog to run free fund a dog park with dog owners money by raising annual fees, but leave us non owners to enjoy our parks without being bothered by other peoples dogs. I attended the bellringing concert at the graduate tower earlier this summer and brought our sons small dog and he was terrified by the two big dogs running all around us so we had to leave.

  11. I agree with the other commenters, dogs should be leashed. I recently had a nasty encounter with an unleashed dog while bicycling on the D&R Canal tow path. A psychotic unleashed dog came charging up to me, snarling and barking in an unhinged way, inches from my ankles. I just froze and did not move at all. The owner of the dog was calling for it to come away; so why didn’t he come over and grab the dog by the scruff of the neck instead of just using vocal commands. Eventually the dog walked away but it was not a pleasant experience to say the least. I was thankful that it did not actually attack or bite me but the event would not have happened if it was leashed. I remember the bad old days in Princeton when there were no leash laws and dogs roamed all over the area, dog “detritus” land mines were all over the topography and dogs chasing after me as I bicycled on various streets (Jefferson, Chestnut, etc.).

  12. I do not see how it is a “win” for people who can enjoy the park all the time now, to have to plan around doggy play time.

  13. People often assume that everyone loves dogs.This is not true. It does not make them bad people. Even if someone likes dogs, there is no way of knowing if a strange dog will be friendly or mean. Dogs are unpredictable. This is why there are leash laws.
    A fenced in dog park with adequate parking for their people is the only fair people friendly way to allow dogs of leash. One topic that is not addressed is where this park could be. I would be curious to know if people think that it is fair to turn a park for people into a dog park.
    In any case, non-dog owners should not have to avoid parks during certain hours so that dogs can run around. People would likely not abide by scheduled off leash hours. There are plenty of people who do not abide by the leash laws already. No one should have to deal with the excrement that would be left behind, either unnoticed or ignored by the owners.

  14. How about a designated dog park, funded by ticketing off-leash dogs in the woods and around community in the evenings?

  15. If we don’t give these dog people some space for their dogs to play safely then I will continuously be terrorized by their dogs and owners refusing to follow the rules. Give them what they want and we will get the peace we desire

  16. Just doing what we’ve been doing and expecting things to be different is the definition of insanity… we need to give them their own space so I don’t have to be around their dogs

  17. Dude dogs have not “roamed” around Princeton without leash laws, especially in the hyperbolic way you described the bad old days. Dogs also have not chased people around town like you described in your bike travels around Princeton. If you hate dogs, just say it.

  18. Dogs are animals. Even the most well-behaved animal can lose control. If you cannot take the time to walk your dog for exercise then how can we know that you have taken the time to properly train your dog to recall immediately in each and every situation? A leash protects other people and the also your beloved dog under all circumstances: people, bicycles, cars, chasing squirrels, loud noises, etc. Dogs, like children, need boundaries and rules to obey. Or we could just let them run wild because dogs have rights too above those of the safety of general public. —dog owner and against a taxpayer funded dog park

  19. Hi Shelly, we agree! This is why we are asking for a fenced in area for our furry friends. We truly want to respect those residents who don’t want dogs approaching them. This petition serves the whole community!

  20. Hi Jay, those of us who advocate for a dog park really don’t want that to happen! That’s why our first choice is to have a fenced-in dog park so that everyone’s safety and security is valued, while allowing space for our dogs to play together off-leash.

  21. Several states such as Vermont don’t have leash laws and things run smoothly. If anyone has a problem with dogs off leash, they shouldn’t go to the park during this off-peak time.
    P.S. I don’t have a dog so I’m not vested in this discussion.

  22. If you want to respect residents who do not want dogs approaching then please leash your dog.

    You can’t promise safety at a dog park. What happens if a dog at the dog park bites someone? Who is liable for that? The person will most likely sue the town not the dog owner (as they will get $$ from the town).

    I think if dog owners want a dog park there needs to be a lot of thought about where it is and who is paying for it/ liability insurance. I am also against using tax-payer money for it.

  23. I’m aghast at some of the bad faith commentary opposed to off-leash hours and even to a dog park in Princeton. First of all, dog owners pay to license their dogs in Princeton. But more importantly, municipal taxes pay for services and infrastructure for the WHOLE civic community, not just the things you personally like or dislike. And asking Princetonians to just go to another park like Skillman or Rosedale simply shunts the expense of a dog park onto other communities. That’s not very neighborly, especially for a community with so many dogs. A dog park is basic and Princeton has a considerable amount of green space, some of which is chronically underutilized.

    I’m also alarmed and confused by the links posted above by L Vanbeek. The PDF you included says nothing about dog parks or designated off-leash times or even about leashing dogs for that matter. It only instructs parents to teach their children how to act near a dog, which, as research shows, is indeed important. I don’t know what the study you posted says because it’s behind a paywall. But I can assure you, the number you give of 5 million pediatric dog bites per year is fear mongering. That’s more than the annual number of reported dog bites for adults and children in the US. By the numbers, bicycles, cars, and stairs are all individually far more dangerous to children than dogs. Dog bite statistics also generally don’t tell you the context in which the bite occurred. They typically only record dog breed. So it is unclear how many of the 800,000 dog bites per year that receive medical attention occurred in domestic or public spaces.

    NYC has had off-leash times in certain parks for more than 20 years. They have an instructive FAQ for those who are interested (link below). But here are some highlights. Off-leash hours, typically in the early morning and around dusk, correspond with a reduction in crime and violence. A good amount of research indicates that dogs are generally more aggressive, territorial, and anti-social at home and on leash if they can’t exercise off leash. Based on a survey of scholarship on the topic, the FAQ reads: “When dogs are allowed time off-leash, studies show that they are far more social towards people and other dogs, considerably less aggressive, bark less, bite less, and tend to have far less neurotic behavior than dogs who get no off-leash exercise.” Finally, because dog owners show up rain or shine and take pride in and care about the spaces where their dogs play, off-leash areas tend to be cleaner and better maintained due to the volunteering efforts of dog owners.

    So here’s the irony: all the snap judgments, bad-faith arguments, and prejudices against dogs and their owners actually support the very opposite of what want–nosier, more aggressive dogs and a dirtier city.

    Here’s the NYC FAQ. It includes some interesting links: https://www.nycoffleash.com/html/FAQ.htm
    If you’re actually interested in the causes of child injury, the CDC and NIH publish statistics that are not behind a paywall.

  24. I live in Hopewell, which has a leash law. My on-leash whippet was attacked and injured three times by off-leash “good dogs” over the years of her life. Folks that think their dog won’t ever attack another dog have no clue about dog behavior. On-leash dogs are a target for any dog who doesn’t happen to like that dog, for whatever reason, even if you think you own a “good dog”. There’s something about the submissive posture of an on-leash dog that many dogs can’t resist, and they attack for no good reason. Enjoy your dog parks but keep your “good dog” on the leash at all times. Leash laws are intended for protection of dogs and humans.

    And I’m sure you remember the story in Hopewell when a woman was mauled by an off-leash dog.

    As for the statistics that dogs are “considerably less aggressive” off-leash, you forget about the ones that still do attack. If they are on-leash, that number drops to zero. Those remaining attacked dogs (like mine) and owners suffer greatly, but hey, why care about just a few dead or injured dogs so you can play with your dog?

  25. My children say “is that a NEED or a WANT” when asking for an item. So too should the Princeton Council ask when Princeton residents place requests for expenditures using hard-earned taypayer dollars. The taypaying residents deserve some consideration since we are footing the bill for wants in excess of what is necessary.

  26. I encourage you to ask your vet if they think dog parks are great for dogs. Perhaps they could benefit from billing you to care for your pet following a dog park visit. Mostly I think vets are saddened that you decided to bring your dog to essentially a doggie MMA cage where they have received irreparable damage or possibly a fatal injury. Don’t bring your children with you to experience any trauma or see their furry friend demolished before their eyes.

  27. Typical dog park costs are a drop in the bucket compared to costs to maintain ball fields, soccer fields, swimming pools or playgrounds. No recreational amenities fall into the “needs” category. And yet recreational amenities foster social connections, which enhance community well-being, which benefit the community.
    Towns with dog parks will say that dog parks have one of the highest levels of utilization of any recreational amenity in the community. At one of the lowest costs.
    There are only two underserved groups left in Princeton, from a recreational perspective. People who choose to adopt dogs are one group. Senior citizens are the other group.
    Both pay taxes to support recreational amenities for others. Both deserve accessible and appropriate recreational amenities for their own needs and wants.

  28. It obviously depends on the dog park and the people who use it. On the rules and oversight.
    Just as a responsible parent carefully chooses playgrounds and playmates, a responsible dog owner does the same.
    An excellent example of a dog park is in nearby South Brunswick. To enter, dogs must be fully vaccinated. Dogs with behavior problems are not allowed and can have entrance rights revoked if necessary. Dogs are safer in this park than on the sidewalk.
    I dont know of a playground in our area that offers children and their parents the same level of protection.

  29. You are correct that zero of our license fees go to support dog-related items. I assume the funds might be allocated to offset the animal control officer budget or into general funds to pay for other things, like playgrounds, ball fields, etc.

  30. Two of my neighbors walk their dogs on leashes. One does not clean up after her dog and instead covers it with a leaf. Another neighbor’s son pretends that he is looking at his cell phone and leaves his dog’s mess behind. Do you really believe that all dog owners will clean up after their dogs unleashed and running wild in a dog park? And to turn a people park into an unleashed dog park will result in disgusting dog mess everywhere. Not to mention the amount of barking at a dog park will create an increase in noise. This works against our quiet-leaf-raking-anti-gas-leaf-blowing-and-landscaping-only-during-certain-months ordinance.

  31. It’s nothing compared to the costs of the (hopefully abandoned) proposal for the artificial turf in Hilltop Park.

  32. All excellent points re: anti-dog park. We should actually take it a step further so that we can enjoy ourselves and our parks even more… We should get rid of all the ball fields… have you seen how they get torn up with all the kids playing soccer and lacrosse on them? And the messes the parents leave during the games, all the soda cans and wrappers sitting in the grass. Sometimes, I’ve seen a parent just cover up a half-eaten sandwich with a leaf. And then there’s the sound of kids hitting baseballs or skateboarding until all times at night! Please, let me get some sleep. And of course, the number of times I’ve been almost mowed down by some kid racing to get to their game on time… please parents, keep your kids on a leash!

Comments are closed.