Attack on great blue heron highlights concern over off-leash dogs

by Jon Hetman, Director of External Relations & Communications
August 26, 2015

Attack on great blue heron highlights concern over off-leash dogs


On the evening of Wednesday, August 19, a great blue heron frequently seen in the ponds at the Arnold Arboretum was attacked and killed by off-leash dogs. The incident was witnessed by an Arboretum visitor and reported to staff the following day. This shocking and preventable death has deeply affected the Arboretum community, prompting the launch of a public information campaign in the Arboretum landscape to promote understanding and request visitor compliance with local leash laws.

This incident provides a stark example of the potential consequences of allowing pets to roam or play untethered in a public landscape like the Arboretum. In addition to threats posed to resident wildlife like the great blue heron–a protected species under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918–the Arboretum has also received reports of off-leash dogs pursuing and injuring bicyclists, children, and other Arboretum visitors. The safety and comfort of everyone at the Arboretum is a paramount concern, and the Arboretum is collaborating with Boston Police and officials from the Boston Department of Inspectional Services to ensure that progress is made both on the enforcement of leash laws as well as creating opportunities for public information on this issue.

The Arnold Arboretum always welcomes dogs and their human companions to enjoy the landscape, requiring only that dogs remain leashed at all times within the Arboretum grounds and that dog waste is removed and disposed. In addition to posing a threat to wildlife, visitors, and even leashed pets, off-leash dogs have been responsible for damaging turf and new plantings, and soiling the landscape while outside their owners’ sight. The Arboretum has also received complaints from visitors expressing their discomfort or fear of visiting the Arboretum due to the frequent presence of off-leash dogs.

Keeping dogs leashed in the Arboretum is not only necessary to maintain a safe and healthy environment, it’s also the law. A Massachusetts State Law (chapter 140, section 173) and a Boston City ordinance (Section 16-1.9) each require dogs to be leashed on public property. “While enjoying our city’s parks with our pets,” the Boston ordinance states, “the same rules apply. We must respect the rights of those with whom we share the city’s parks in order to ensure a clean and safe environment.”

The Arnold Arboretum is among Boston’s greatest treasures, offering free access to world-class plant collections and beautiful and historic grounds designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. With this signage campaign, the Arboretum appeals directly to dog owners for their help in safeguarding the Arboretum and the people and animals who visit it by respecting leash laws. Visitors may also report unleashed dogs within the Arboretum to Boston Animal Control (617.635.5348) or Boston Police (617.343.5630).

3 thoughts on “Attack on great blue heron highlights concern over off-leash dogs

  1. I’m very sorry to hear this. But, I hope it will lead the Arboretum to address the dog problem. The Roslindale side of the arboretum is essentially one big off-leash park. I don’t expect it will change without active patrolling. I have stopped going there as a result. It is neither safe nor pleasant to visit.

  2. Hello, There are many rumors swirling around this horrible incident. I have heard that it was coyotes who killed the bird and eviscerated it, and then dogs came upon the
    carcass. I have heard that someone “thinks” they saw the bird attacked, but only came upon it afterward. I’ve heard that someone witnessed the entire attack and took pictures.
    It would be very helpful to have the details clarified, and if there is any question about whether it was a dog or a coyote, it would be helpful to know that too. Clearly dogs should not be off-leash there, but the amount of vitriol that is being expressed against dogs and dog owners is over the top. Additionally, people are concerned about the presence of coyotes as they have been spotted at the Arboretum and other parks during the day time hours. At Millennium Park, we have seen them at 9 am. Can you clarify with verifiable facts what is known about what happened, what is unknown or unknowable, and information about coyotes.
    Thank you.

  3. Hi Claudia, thanks for your comment. All the details we have about this event are described in the beginning of the post above. A visitor witnessed dogs, not coyotes, attacking the heron and reported it to staff, who found the heron dead. The Arboretum has not expressed any vitriol towards dogs or dog owners, who are frequent and welcome visitors, but simply requests that dogs be on leash on Arboretum grounds to maintain the safety of all our visitors.

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