History: Leash Law

Friday March 8, 1968

It was at my very first Town Meeting – the night we passed the dog leash by-law, which was a first for Holliston. I grew up in Springfield, MA, population at the time about 189,000. I knew nothing about small town government, but my then-husband John did, as a native of tiny Wilbraham, MA, and he insisted we attend.

The meeting was in Upper Town Hall where tight rows and rows of wooden folding chairs were lined up. The chairs were linked together in “sets” of three with slatted seats – think airplane three-in-a-row

without armrests. You could not wiggle lest you disturb the person right next to you. And you could not get any space between you and your neighbor. The slats in the seats were uncomfortable if you were wearing a dress, if you get my meaning and at that point in time, pants were not acceptable public attire for women.

The room was very full and the obviously “important people” were at the front of the room in clusters buzzing about whatever. The people-watching was wonderful.

When we got to the dog-leash article, the people-watching became riveting for now I could tell that there was a clash between longtime residents and newcomers. Clearly the latter were the impetus behind the by-law. They spoke of packs of dogs wandering through their neighborhoods – Queens in particular.

(One quick aside – locals were quick to point out to newcomers that Queens was built on Gooch’s swamp. Many said it was nuts to build there and even nuttier to buy there.)

Nevertheless, the Queens was the premier neighborhood at the time with hundreds of new homes in the price range of $25,000 and up. I remember that because we looked at those houses and could not afford them. They were fashioned on a New York style that was different from the typical New England cape or colonial.

It seemed that many of the new residents in Queens came from parts of the country or state that were more urbanized and where limiting the freedom of dogs was the norm. As the debate got heated – and indeed it did – local farmers protested that their dogs had to run wild, because they helped to keep wildlife out of the fields or away from livestock. Many speakers said it wasn’t natural to tie dogs up. In fact, it was downright cruel.

To the newcomers, it was scary to see a pack of dogs roaming through the yards where their children played. They complained that kids at bus stops were being knocked down by dogs. What if a dog attacked a child, they demanded? What if the dogs got into a fight and inadvertently hurt a child? And the trash! Dogs got into it and made a mess. And of course, dogs did their business anywhere.

George DeCristoforo (r.) at opening of The Plant Place 1975

Back and forth the debate went, and to this day, I remember one gentleman – George DeCristoforo – who later became a Selectman and a friend –  standing up and reading the poem, “Man’s Best Friend.” This struck me as funny, so quaint; a joke perhaps? Surely not facts for debate? People applauded. It was no joke. I clearly was out of my element.

I know today that I was watching a social change – the arrival of new people in large enough numbers to make an impact. That proposed leash law passed as I witnessed a “packed and stacked” Town Meeting where proponents of the by-law had rallied their friends and neighbors to attend. It appeared to me that this was a major turning point for some of the natives although they may have considered it a once-off.

There was an amendment that passed directing officials to determine just how much this by-law would cost to implement, i.e. for a dog officer, a truck, etc. I can only guess, but believe, that this amendment was probably raised by a frugal Townie who really didn’t like the idea and genuinely felt it would be a waste of money.
Six weeks later there was a Special Town Meeting and people appropriated $5,500 to implement the by-law.

The original by-law called for dogs to be on a leash or confined to their own property between 7:00 am and 7:00 pm. In 1997, the hours stretched to 24 hours because concerns persisted (posted below). It took a while before we stopped seeing dogs roaming the streets unattached, but eventually we knew that a loose dog was an escapee.


There are reports of dogs in a couple of neighborhoods habitually roaming or escaping and running loose. On a couple of occasions, real harm has been done to other dogs. One case recently resulted in the Board of Selectmen voting unanimously to euthanize a German Shepherd who had killed a small dog that was being walked on a leash by her owner in a development. This was actually the second time that the Shepherd attacked the small 10 pound dog. The first time he did serious damage – this time it was fatal. The aggressor dog even had training in the interim but to no avail. The Shepherd’s owner is appealing the order in District Court; case will be heard November 13th.

In another neighborhood, a therapy dog was attacked and seriously injured. Therapy dogs are good- natured animals that are well-trained to be compliant and suitable for visiting nursing homes and hospital wards, etc. This pup is still suffering with problems from the attack that took place several weeks ago. His owner has spent nearly $700 on vet bills and more to come. Oh, she has pet insurance, but it won’t cover costs incurred as a result of another dog. Insurers expect the owner of the other dog to pay. And this victim was on a leash, too, when attacked by the marauding dog.

There are over 1,700 licensed dogs in Holliston now. We have 86 miles of accepted roads and another 10 or so miles of unaccepted roadways.The dog officer is shared with Ashland. Perhaps the workload is just too big.

Then there are many complaints about people allowing their dogs to run loose on the Rail Trail. People who use the Trail regularly know who the owners are that allow their dogs to run free…the scofflaws  are Hollistonians not visitors.

Maybe the by-laws are not clear or the fines are not a deterrent. Do we need to make changes? Like what? I’d love to hear. Here’s the link to the complete bylaw. Scroll to p.28 Animal Control.

Below is copy of Selectmen’s order from 1997 – still in force today.



7 responses to “History: Leash Law”

  1. Roberta Weiner says:

    Fascinating history!

  2. Paul LeBeau says:

    I remember writing the order in 1997 after the Selectmen’s vote. I also remember someone commenting that one way to increase turnout at town meetings would be to propose a change to the Dog By-law in every town meeting warrant.

  3. Cherie says:

    Very timely, Mary! I’m hearing lots of complaints about dogs off leash on the Rail Trail (“Don’t worry, he’s friendly” and “My voice is the leash” are some of the most common excuses given for those feeling they are exempt)

    I had my entire flock of chickens and ducks wiped out by 2 neighborhood dogs running loose. “Friendly” is a relative term…

  4. Marti says:

    Very interesting Mary. My family was one of the “newcomers” who moved to the Queens in 1968. My parents just celebrated 50 years in Holliston last July.

  5. Dick Morgado says:

    Hi Mary…
    Great job! Love hearing about Holliston “back in the day”. Photo of George DeChristoforo brought back memories….George at Town Meeting with his glasses hung off one ear with his nose inches from the page… And, the photo of the old benches (I used them when we did The Music Man at the high school. Keep it up.

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