Attorney: No Legal Problem with Dogs at Bristow


Bristow Bird Sanctuary is a public park and there’s nothing in its original deed to say dogs aren’t allowed on the property, according to an attorney whose legal opinion on the matter had been sought by town officials.

There's no legal requirements to make Bristow Bird Sanctuary completely dog-free, according to an attorney hired by the town to investigate the matter. Credit: Terry Dinan

There’s no legal requirements to make Bristow Bird Sanctuary completely dog-free, according to an attorney hired by the town to investigate the matter. Credit: Terry Dinan

Leashed dogs have been walked in the park since at least 1999 and a legal review of several documents—deeds, studies, annual reports, announcements—yields “insufficient documentation to reach a conclusion regarding the intent of the Grantor and whether the covenants were intended to restrict dogs,” according to Gail Kelly of Westport-based Berchem, Moses & Devlin.

“There is nothing in the 1934 Deed to suggest that dogs are not allowed with the Bird Sanctuary,” Kelly said in a memo (embedded below as a PDF) addressed to Town Council Vice Chair Steve Karl, head of the group’s Bylaws & Ordinances Subcommittee.

The Town Council had sought the legal opinion following a public hearing on the matter, which saw residents on both sides of the issue make impassioned pleas to the legislative body.

The 17-acre Bristow Bird Sanctuary is located off of adjoins Mead Park. While the deed says that Bristow “shall be forever maintained as a Bird Sanctuary and Wildwood Preserve, and used for no other purpose whatsoever,” it also specifies “that the public shall enjoy the free use of the property consistent with the purpose described in these conditions.”

Under Article 6, Section 8 of the Town Charter, dogs aren’t allowed to run off-leash anywhere in New Canaan public parks except in a designated dog run (Spencer’s Run at Waveny).

A recommendation to ban dogs from Bristow originated in the spring of 2014 with the Park & Recreation Commission and re-emerged in May.

During July’s public hearing, members of the Town Council agreed that it’s critical to respect the wishes of those who gift properties to the town, so that prospective donors are not deterred from doing the same in the future. They also agreed that New Canaan has failed to maintain Bristow, which is thick with weeds and invasive vegetation, and has suffered from vandalism.

What wasn’t clear was whether ridding the property of leashed dogs also is required by the deed—in other words, whether preserving the park as a sanctuary for birds means “no dogs allowed.” Officer Maryann Kleinschmitt, head of the Animal Control unit for the New Canaan Police Department, said that that the deer foraging on ground vegetation (not leashed dogs) are the primary barrier to ground-nesting birds making Bristow their home.

The Town Council during its regular meeting—to be held at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Town Hall Meeting Room—will take up the matter during an agenda descried this way: “Legal deed review and informational update regarding the Bristow Sanctuary.”

Asked for his thoughts on the Bristow situation, Karl said: “I guess the takeaway from all this is that whether you are for or against allowing dogs to walk in the Sanctuary, we are shining a light on an asset that has been neglected and hopefully between the Conservation Commission and Park & Recreation Commission, we can make some improvements over there to make it nice for everybody—people, birds and dogs.”

Here is Kelly’s full memo:

One thought on “Attorney: No Legal Problem with Dogs at Bristow

  1. I hope that settles the matter and the dog haters that sought to legislate an under-utilized park into their personal sanctuary cease and desist gracefully! We’ll see.

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