Animal Control: Leashed Dogs Create No Problems for Birds at Bristow


Regardless of how officials handle a renewed effort to ban leashed dogs from a 17-acre parcel that the town acquired eight decades ago, far more than disallowing canines would be needed to restore the former bird sanctuary that adjoins Mead Park to its original, deeded purpose, according to the head of the New Canaan Police Department’s Animal Control unit.

The Town Council during a special meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday will host an informational discussion on the property commonly known as the ‘Bristow Bird Sanctuary’ (its name officially changed in 1986 to ‘The Helen and Alice Bristow Sanctuary and Wildlife Preserve’).

A push to ban even leashed dogs, which goes back to at least April 2014, re-emerged in May from the Park & Recreation Commission. Advocates for the change say dogs often run off-leash in Bristow, in violation of a local ordinance, and that the property’s binding deed should be interpreted as an outright ban on dogs. (The deed itself makes no mention of dogs specfically—more on that below.)

Even so, the more pressing problem with re-introducing ground-nesting birds into Bristow is that deer have “obliterated” all ground coverage, according to Officer Maryann Kleinschmitt.

“The idea that dogs walking through there are creating problem for the birds—that is not the case as it stands right now,” Kleinschmitt said when asked for her view of Bristow.

“If they are trying to get ground birds back on the ground, they will have to do a lot more than just prevent dogs from coming in there. I continually walk through it, and there are trees that have knocked down fencing and it’s only a five- or six-foot fence. Deer are hopping over it and consuming all of the vegetation. There are no more nesting birds in there. To bring them back, you need to start with some very expensive fencing, eight feet or higher, to keep out the deer because right now they’re in there. There are also coyotes, and the birds are in the trees now.”

An organization called the ‘New Canaan Bird Protective Society’ in 1934 sold the 16.83-acre park to the town for $1, according to land records filed in March of that year with the Town Clerk. The deed lists among its “express covenants and conditions” that “the land so deeded shall be forever maintained as a Bird Sanctuary and Wildwood Preserve, and used for no other purpose whatsoever.”

It’s been used as a public park ever since, though for a time there had been a ‘No Dogs Allowed’ sign at the Old Stamford Road entrance to Bristow (as well as a dog litter bag dispenser). Kleinschmitt said her unit’s officers ticket dog owners found to have released their animals from a leash, as they do at public properties such as Waveny and Irwin Parks.

Wednesday’s Town Council agenda item represents a discussion only, rather than a formal vote: “Bristow Sanctuary: Informational discussion regarding the Bristow Sanctuary history, deed and community usage.”

No future deeds regarding Bristow, whose address is 47 Old Stamford Road, altered the original language cited above about its being “forever maintained as a bird sanctuary.” A structure used to sit on the property, known as the ‘Sanctuary House,’ that was to be used by the Bird Protective Society for “meetings, library, museum etc.” A 1976 quit claim on the structure transferred it from the Bird Protective Society’s successor, the New Canaan Audubon Society (later subsumed by the New Canaan Land Trust) to the town.

13 thoughts on “Animal Control: Leashed Dogs Create No Problems for Birds at Bristow

  1. Would have been nice/more professional if you had included comments and views from: 1) people who are opposed to ANY dogs in that SANCTUARY; and, 2) people who actually use the SANCTUARY (such as i do on a regular basis)!!
    Dog owners already have a dedicated park at Waveny for their unleashed dogs, as well as the use all other parks in Town for their dogs on leashes. Why can’t we have at least one spot where we don’t have to worry about dogs (and their owners) mugging us??

    • Thank you for posting a comment, George. I don’t read Officer Kleinschmitt’s comments as being pro- or anti- here, and that’s not why I interviewed her on this subject. We have an effort to rid a public property of dogs, including leashed dogs, and talk that there are many owners who illegally let their dogs loose, and the pretext for this effort is to preserve habitat for wildlife and birds specifically. As the head Animal Control Officer, it is Kleinschmitt’s job to enforce the leash law, patrol public parks such as this one and to possess extensive knowledge about wildlife in New Canaan (though it is not in the unit’s charge to deal with wildlife directly except in specific situations). In other words, she can be asked/interviewed in a standalone article like this on the subject of banning dogs from Bristow outright in order to bring back the ground-nesting bird population. Are you disagreeing with her remarks? Do you feel hers is not an important voice on this matter? Do you think I have misrepresented her point of view? Thank you again.

      • I don’t disagree with her at all. what i disagree with is your one-sided reporting on the issue … which is not one of just ground nesting birds (which may or may not breed there), but also of ridding just one public property of dogs that are either unleashed or on such long leashes that can still intimidate walkers and joggers … especially ones with small children. This area for many years did not allow any dogs … many recall the sign that said it … but, as usual, many dog owners, feeling entitled, ignored the sign and let their dogs loose there anyways. Just as they don’t clean up after the craps there dogs leave in public areas.
        Are you opposed to having just one area free from all dogs when there are so many other parks, sidewalks, etc. in Town where dogs can be? The problem of loose dogs and other animals must be growing since we now have the very effective Officer Kleinschmitt and 4 assistants.

        • I understand you now, George: You would like the town to ban dogs outright from Bristow, regardless of what effect that would have—or, as at least one official in a position to speak to this issue has it, wouldn’t have—on the nesting birds. You want to have a public place where you will not encounter dogs, period. I must say, the architects of this effort at Bristow, if their underlying goal is the same as yours—and not, as they’ve stated, to restore the property as a sanctuary for birds—have been rather more diplomatic in presenting their reasons. Kindly note that this article involves those people’s publicly stated reasons for banning dogs from Bristow, which are different from yours. For you, a “no dog zone” may as well be located elsewhere as Bristow. That helps me understand why you view Officer Kleinschmitt’s perspective as a negative. I do wonder whether your request of the town is in line with those who have launched this effort regarding Bristow—it may be worthwhile to check in with them ahead of Wednesday night’s Town Council meeting. Alias notwithstanding, you clearly feel strongly about this, so I take it you shall seek the podium.

  2. One key problem with your article is that you have only presented one point of view, when, if fact, that are multiple views on this issue.
    What’s wrong with ” an effort to rid a public property of dogs, including leashed dogs”, and that there is evidence … not just “talk that there are many owners who illegally let their dogs loose” — not just at the bird SANCTUARY, but in Waveny and Irwin parks as well.
    How about following up and asking Officer K. how many summons she has given out in the past year for dogs running loose in Town? And while you are at it ask her how many dogs in Town are not registered as they are supposed to be legally.

  3. We walk our dog (on leash) at Irwin Park, Waveny Park, the Nature Center, local streets, downtown, and around the outside of the high school track, among others. It doesn’t seem like it’s essential to open the bird sanctuary to dog walkers as well. Yes, maybe it will take more than keeping dogs out of Bristow to reinvigorate the bird population, but it seems like a first step, rather than doing nothing at all.

    • Cam, if I’m reading Officer Kleinschmitt correctly, then a ban on dogs would not be a first step. She is saying that Step One must be to restore the habitat for ground-nesting birds by ridding Bristow of the deer that forage there. Beyond that, for me, it’s pretty clear that off-leash dogs are an equally big barrier to those birds. As a practical matter, I could see where an outright ban would be easier to enforce than the leash law.

  4. Bristow Bird Sanctuary remains a bird sanctuary and preserve. It is not a public park.
    There are 2 links to Bristow on the Town’s websites. In one site, it is listed under “New Canaan Parks”, however, the description remains that it is a bird sanctuary — not a park.
    Next, under Parks Department neither Bristow Bird Sanctuary and Wildlife Preserve nor Irwin Park are listed.
    According to all deeds, Bristow remains a bird sanctuary. It was never turned over to the Town for use as a park.

  5. Will the coyotes in Bristow be issued summonses as well? I’ve heard them in there fairly frequently and even spotted one once. Seriously though, I use Bristow as a shortcut when walking my dog from my home to town (on a leash) and will miss the opportunity to do so if dogs are banned outright. It’s very quiet and peaceful back there and it’s almost always empty. I absolutely think the existing leash and curb laws should be enforced, but I’m not a fan of making laws that eliminate dogs on leashes from outdoor spaces altogether. Are there that many dog haters out there that the rest of us need to modify our behavior just to indulge them? Can we have a park just for adults for those who don’t like children as well? How many other different minority subsets of people should we cater to? Anyway, this problem feels like an enforcement issue rather than a legislative issue. Enforce the existing laws and ignore vocal minorities with petty hang ups. Properly leashed dogs pose no threat to anyone – human or fowl. I hope reason rules the day on this.

    • then why is it ok to have a dog park that is exclusively for dogs off leash … especially when about 2/3 of the users are out–of-towners?

      • Because dogs can’t be off leash anywhere else but private property. If they could be off leash everywhere we may not need Spencer’s run.

        • By the way, not advocating the elimination of the leash laws outside of Spencer’s Run. Just saying that’s why Spencer’s run is needed. That, and because there are A LOT of dogs and dog owners in New Canaan. I would say dog owners have achieved a critical mass whose needs should be considered. I’m not so sure about the dog-hater lobby yet.

  6. Not sure how we got here but New Canaan has become a much less friendly dog community from what it once was not too long ago. In the days of tight budgets why do we need a staff of 5 for animal control ?
    Not to long ago SGT Cogswell of the NCPD doubled as the canine officer and things seemed to work fine. Has the dog population increased by that much that we now need such a large staff?

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