Should Nantucket Pursue the Establishment of a Dog Park?

Sponsor: Nantucket Board of Health
Sponsor Liaison: Richard Ray, Health Director, Board of Health
Alexandra (Sandra) Welsh
Student Team: Tara Jarobski, Sarah Meehan, Dominique Throop
Abstract: The goal of this project was to determine the desirability and feasibility of a fenced-in dog park on Nantucket. Dog parks have become increasingly popular in the United States in recent years, due to their many health and educational benefits, but no dog park currently exists on Nantucket. Interviews with key stakeholders and extensive surveys of the public revealed overwhelming support for a dog park on Nantucket among people who do and do not own dogs. We recommended that the Town of Nantucket further pursue the establishment of a fenced-in dog park since it will serve a major role in educating people about dogs, associated environmental and health issues, and responsible dog ownership.

Executive Summary


Forty-six million American households (39%) own at least one dog, and the estimated 78 million dogs produce 10 million tons of waste each year. Increasing concern about the growing number of dogs and associated problems, such as water pollution and dog bites, have led to a growing number of restrictions on dogs and dog owners. Dog lovers have responded by creating “dog parks.”

A dog park is defined as a public park, typically fenced, where people and their dogs can play. As the number of dogs has risen, so has the number of dog parks. Between the years of 2005 to 2010 the number of dog parks in the United States increased by 34%. In fact, dog parks have become the fastest growing segment of city parks, as of 2011. Today, there are approximately 1,200 dog parks in operation in the United States.


Dogs are especially popular on Nantucket, but there are increasing concerns about the potential adverse impacts on water quality, public health, and wildlife. The goal of this project was to determine the desirability, feasibility, and potential design features of a dog park on Nantucket. In order to meet this goal, we conducted in-depth interviews with key stakeholders and opinion leaders on the island to clarify the nature of concerns about dogs and dog owners, and to assess the feasibility of establishing a dog park on Nantucket. We also conducted a survey of 219 dog owners and 142 non-dog owners to gauge public opinions about and attitudes towards dogs, problems associated with dogs, and the idea of a dog park.

Findings & Analysis

We found that 78% of non-dog owners and 76% of dog owners would be in favor of a fenced-in dog park. Additionally, 47% of non-dog owners on Nantucket are uncomfortable with off-leash dogs. This suggests that a fenced-in area would allow these community members to feel at ease. As over half of Nantucket dog owners agree that hunting season poses a threat to the safety of dogs, it is understandable that they are interested in pursuing a safe, enclosed area.  When asked why dog owners were in favor of a fenced-in dog park, the most popular response was in regards to safety.


After extensive research, we found that:

  • Dog parks are becoming increasingly popular in the US in part because of increasing restrictions on dogs and dog owners but also because dog parks serve a variety of social and educational functions, such as:
    • allowing dogs to exercise and socialize safely
    • promoting responsible dog ownership
    • providing an outlet for dog owners to socialize
    • making for a better community by promoting public health and safety
  • Dog parks vary in location, size, designs, and management structures depending on the needs and desires of the local community.
  • Dogs are a major part of life on Nantucket but there are increasing concerns among various stakeholders and opinion leaders about the potential problems posed by the growing dog population, including impacts on the environment, wildlife, water quality, and public health, and the need for opportunities to socialize and educated dogs and owners.
  • General consensus among stakeholders and opinion leaders interviewed that a dog park could have major benefits for Nantucket; while a park may not directly or substantially affect impacts on the environment and public health, the educational opportunities presented by the park may be substantial.
  • Many of the community members that were interviewed felt a dog park on the island would increase public awareness of the town’s dog-related issues and encourage more responsible ownership.
  • Surveys reveal that there is overwhelming support for a dog park among both dog owners and non-owners.
  • The survey also reveals the key design features that are desired by dog owners.


Based on our comprehensive studies and findings, we recommend the following:

  • Recommendation 1: The Town should encourage the creation of a volunteer group or committee to explore further the establishment of a dog park on Nantucket. This group or committee should evaluate the location options, preferred design elements, and alternative management alternatives.
  • Recommendation 2: Regarding location, the team recommends the group/committee
    evaluate potential sites based on the following criteria:

    • 1-2 acres preferred;
    • Up-grade location away from surface waters and sensitive ecological areas;
    • Ease of road access;
    • Proximity to town; and,
    • Proximity of neighboring residences.
  • Recommendation 3: Regarding design elements, the team recommends the group/committee explore the desirability and cost of the following key features:
    • Parking;
    • Lighting;
    • Appropriate fencing;
    • Double gate system;
    • Separate fenced-in areas for small and medium/large dogs;
    • Water fountains for dogs/people;
    • Benches;
    • Trees; and,
    • Restrooms.
  • Recommendation 4: For the dog park to effectively promote responsible dog ownership, the team recommends the group/committee provide the following:
    • Informational kiosk;
    • Dog waste bag dispensers; and,
    • Trash receptacles.
  • Recommendation 5: Regarding management structure, the team recommends the group/committee form a voluntary group (such as a “Friends of the Nantucket Dog Park”) to oversee the park.
  • Recommendation 6: Regarding funding options, the team recommends the group/committee explore fundraising events, commemorative items, and donation options.
  • Recommendation 7: Regarding operation and maintenance, the team recommends the group/committee explore the best options for:
    • Park construction
    • Installation of design elements
    • Grounds keeping
    • Emptying of trash receptacles
    • General maintenance (fixing fences, etc.)
  • Recommendation 8: The team recommends the group/committee further research the specific liabilities and insurance involved in the management model chosen for the dog park.
  • Recommendation 9: Regarding park rules and enforcement, the team recommends the group/committee research that of similar dog parks. Specifically, the group/committee should consider the following:
    • Posting rules and regulations at the entrance of the dog park
    • Early enforcement of rules and regulations
    • “Enter at your own risk”
    • Limiting hours of operation
    • Setting age restrictions for both people and dogs
    • Suggesting dogs receive proper vaccinations before entering the park
  • Recommendation 10: the team recommends the group/committee visit existing dog parks (such as in Falmouth, Massachusetts) to evaluate design and management issues.