The Groton Open Space Association welcomes dogs in The Merritt Family Forest and the Sheep Farm provided their owners have registered with us and have agreed in writing to follow our simple rules, which include:

  • Keeping your dog on a maximum 6-foot leash.
  • Bagging your dog’s fecal waste and dispose of it responsibly off site.
  • Minimizing contact of your dog with on-site bodies of water.
  • Displaying your registration badge at all times when walking your dog on either site.  GOSA provides the badge, display case and lanyard without charge.

In order to register, please send your name, address, phone number and email address, if any, to or to GOSA, Box 9187, Groton, CT 06340-9187. We’ll contact you quickly.

For more information on walking your dog on GOSA property and the law governing dog-walking in Connecticut, read the article below from the Fall 2012 newsletter:

To Leash or Not to Leash? That Is the Question

By Eugenia Villagra and Joan Smith

We would like to begin this article on a sensitive subject by first thanking the vast majority of visitors to our state parks and GOSA properties for acting courteously, ensuring control of their dogs, and for picking up waste. Responsible dog owners make up a large part of our membership and support our mission through work and financial contributions.

There have been two recent and unfortunate events involving dogs in local state parks that are relevant to people who also walk with their dogs on GOSA properties. In July, an off-leash dog bit a young man in the hand at Haley Farm in Groton. Again in September, a young woman jogging in Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford was bitten on the leg by an off-leash dog. In the latter case, reported in The Day, the owner and her dog ran into the woods after the incident and were never apprehended. As a consequence, the dog was not identified, and after two visits to the emergency room, the woman had no choice but to undergo a series of painful rabies shots. Because GOSA’s goal is to protect people and pets, wildlife, plant communities and waterways, we thought it important to communicate clearly about what the regulations are and why they exist.

 A Summary of State and Local Law

At the entrance to every state park, leash-law signs are prominently posted for all to see. However, as anyone who walks regularly at Haley Farm State Park knows, there are probably as many dogs off leash as on. It is confusing to see so many dogs off leash despite the signs. Though the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is charged with enforcing these regulations, the reality is that they do not have the staff they need to ensure regular enforcement. Connecticut is one state (of very few) that does not mandate that a dog be leashed when off his owner’s property. CT law requires the following: “a dog’s owner or keeper must not allow it to roam on another person’s land or on a public highway, including sidewalks, if it is not under his control. Local governments may also create leash ordinances. Violating the state roaming law is an infraction punishable by a fine of $92 (CGS § 22-364). Additionally, DEEP requires that owners keep their dogs leashed in state parks.”

Local ordinances governing dogs vary if they exist. The Town of Groton, according to Donna Duso, Groton’s Animal Control Officer (ACO), does not have a local ordinance governing leashes so Connecticut law comes into play. The City of Groton and Groton Long Point do have regulations. However, the key to Connecticut law is that “the owner…must not allow it to roam…if it is not under his control.” “Ay, there’s the rub,” as Hamlet would say.

If you cannot guarantee that your dog will remain under control, you are taking a substantial risk as Connecticut law does provide a form of strict liability: “if any dog does any damage to either the body or property of any person, the owner or keeper shall be liable for such damage.” If your dog bites, and the victim decides to sue for damages, there are any number of personal injury lawyers on call 24-7 to take the case against you. Penalties for bites can be severe, including a fine for $1000 and up to six months in prison. Can you afford to take this risk? Also, be aware that in the event your dog bites, Connecticut law requires that “an Animal Control Officer… quarantine a dog that has bitten someone off its owner’s property. The dog must be quarantined for 14 days in a public pound, veterinary hospital, or place approved by the Department of Agriculture commissioner. The purpose of the quarantine is to assure the animal does not have rabies and to examine the dog’s demeanor. The owner must pay all fees associated with quarantining the animal.” (CGS § 22-358 (c))

According to Donna Duso, in the Town of Groton there are, on average, four “pretty bad scenarios” per year involving people getting hurt trying to separate fighting dogs, dogs injured by other dogs, and people getting bitten. Many more go unreported. The next time you are tempted to remove your dog’s leash, try to keep these statutes in mind.

GOSA Dog Policy

There are other, equally important reasons to keep your dog on a leash: habitat and wildlife protection. GOSA’s primary mission is to promote conservation, environmental preservation, open space and recreational areas in southeastern Connecticut.  GOSA owns and maintains two beautiful properties that are not governed by the state park system: The Merritt Family Forest and the Sheep Farm.  These private properties have their own set of rules designed to protect the native wildlife and vegetation. GOSA welcomes dogs provided owners:

1. obtain a permit. A permit is free and can easily be acquired by contacting Sidney Van Zandt at

2. keep dogs on a six-foot leash at all times. GOSA’s properties host rare species of ground-nesting birds, such as ovenbird and brown thrasher, which are extremely sensitive to impacts from humans and pets. Furthermore, GOSA is diligently restoring habitat for the New England cottontail, a candidate for federal endangered species status.  Uncontrolled dogs are likely to go off-trail and chase wildlife.

3. pick up and properly dispose of waste. Pet waste contaminates waterways, providing e-coli and other pathogens similar to those found in human waste. In addition, nitrogen is imported through pet waste, unlike the balanced intake and output of nitrogen associated with local fauna. Palmer’s Cove and Mumford Cove are already vulnerable to high nitrogen levels, associated algal blooms, hypoxia and loss of eel grass- a critical component for fish and shellfish. Contamination is compounded by large numbers of dogs. Tossing waste, bagged or unbagged, into the woods or fields does not resolve the problem.

4.  keep dogs out of waterways, unless a trail crosses a stream. The water, wildlife and plant communities need protection from trampling. Streams are fragile resources hosting rare and sensitive species such as four-toed salamanders, spire-shelled snails and fingernail clams. Vernal pools are an ephemeral habitat required by wood frogs, spotted salamanders, state-listed marbled salamanders and fairy shrimp. They contain large numbers of fragile egg masses during the spring and vulnerable juvenile amphibians in the muddy bottom later in the season.

Finally, we want to alert dog owners that dog-coyote incidents have been reported at Haley Farm in recent months. We encourage vigilance and advise that you quietly leave the area and do not pick up your dog if threatened.

Control of your dog protects you, your dog, other dogs, other people and vulnerable wildlife, waterways and plant communities. Though we all know that a leash is not a guarantee that a dog will remain under control at all times, there is less risk to all if we all observe the law.