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Farmers market dog ban unleashes anger

Decision to close weekly event to pets not made lightly, market officials say

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Canines and crowds don't mix, the members of the Clintonville Farmers' Market concluded.

It wasn't an easy decision, said Market Manager Laura Zimmerman and Jan Kindrick, chairwoman of the board.

But it was one that came as a shock to many on the market's opening day April 17, even though Zimmerman had announced the prohibition on pets in a guest column that appeared two days earlier in ThisWeek Booster.

"I was really surprised," said Ann Elizabeth Palazzo, an associate professor of English at Columbus State Community College.

Palazzo said she doesn't normally take her dog to the market, but did opening day because her pooch was good and tired from a long walk. Upon arrival, she was handed a piece of paper informing her dogs were no longer welcome.

"I think maybe they should put up signs," Palazzo said.

Reaction to the policy, once people found out about it at the market, was swift and, predictably, all over the place.

On a Facebook page dedicated to Clintonville discussion, dozens of comments ranged from anger and frustration to approval and acceptance. The market's own Facebook page also attracted intense discussion.

"I'm disappointed that the Clintonville Farmers' Market advisory board made this decision, affecting a great many marketgoers, without any community input and apparently without considering alternative solutions," wrote Michael Wilson in the Clintonville discussion group.

"I know I will get several dislikes, but I find it exhausting to get so emotional and upset over this topic when we have so many other things to get upset about in today's world," Amie Davies McMonagle wrote on the same page. "I wish that all I had to stress out about was if I could bring my dog to the Clintonville Farmers' Market."

"Many of you are just learning that the Clintonville Farmers' Market advisory board is encouraging market patrons to leave dogs at home this year," Kindrick wrote in an open letter on the market's Facebook page. "After years of careful observation, we've noticed that many dogs act out of character in the hustle and bustle of the market atmosphere, often leading to accidents on the crowded sidewalks and scuffles between dogs. As a board, we've decided it is necessary to implement a no-pets initiative for the safety of market shoppers, including children and elderly market patrons."

Service dogs are permitted, she noted.

"Whenever you make a change like that, it's expected that not everyone in the community will agree," Kindrick said in an interview. "We thought very long and carefully about the response of the community. We felt and we do feel that the decision is the best we could make for the market and for the community.

"We are taking the long view."

"We are still in the early stages of letting folks know about the board's initiative to encourage people to keep dogs and pets at home," Zimmerman said. "We realize it will take some time for people to know about this and so we're trying to hand out information.

"Our goal is to let folks know about it over a period of about three or four weeks."

Palazzo said her reaction was mixed, as she understood the reasoning behind the decision, but also thought the community should've been more involved in it.

"I was kind of shocked because I thought there were a lot of people going to be upset ... I could really see that it's gotten so crowded and there isn't enough room for dogs," she said. "If you didn't want your dog to interact with another dog, you used to be able to find way to see that doesn't happen."

Zimmerman is in her eighth year as market manager.

"There have been incidents every year, incidents which felt like close calls, where dogs lunged at each other near people, near children, dog fights," she said. "Each year, we've discussed it. It's been something that we've thought about every year. The dog incidents become a little scarier. We knew this was going to be difficult and we wouldn't do it if we thought it wasn't necessary."

"This policy is strictly based on concerns about safety -- safety for the most part and also hygiene. Dogs have left their mark all over the market. That, put together with the scarier incidents of agitated dogs, has brought us to this decision."

Zimmerman said the board thought long and hard about the new policy before making it official.

"The board ... believes this is the right thing to do," she said. "Perhaps there will be some creative solutions to where dogs are when their owners come to market. The board wants to state this in as positive a way as we can. We know people love their dogs ... and we have three or four producers every week who provide food for dogs, locally sourced dog food like locally sourced food for people, so we respect people love their dogs.

"So perhaps some creative solution can be found."

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