Cambridge’s human population isn’t the only one that’s growing—the number of canine companions in the city is increasing as well. As of 2015, there were 3,262 dogs licensed in Cambridge, according to Mark W. McCabe, director of the Cambridge Animal Commission. And he estimates there are actually as many as 4,500 dogs living in the city.
That’s an awful lot of dogs—where can they go? Cambridge has plenty of outdoor spaces, including two parks with completely off-leash, dog-friendly dedicated areas: one in Danehy Park and another at the Pacific Street Park. But there are also a number of shared off-leash facilities where dogs can roam freely along with other park users. The largest of these is Fresh Pond Reservation, which is hugely popular, and for good reason. The park has a 2.25- mile path that circles the reservoir. On a nice day you’ll find lots of locals running, walking and biking with their furry friends. You’ll also find dogs taking a dip in Lily Pond, where canine swimming is allowed—though it’s important to note that only dogs that are licensed in Cambridge are allowed to be off-leash in the park. (And yes, the rangers do check.)
While it’s one of the most popular parks, Fresh Pond isn’t the only one that allows dogs off-leash. Fort Washington Park on Waverly Street in Cambridgeport also lets visiting dogs run free. And several parks—including Gold Star Mothers Park, Greene-Rose Heritage Park, Hoyt Field, Raymond Park/Corcoran Field and Joan Lorentz Park—allow dogs off-leash on a limited basis from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. There are often areas where dogs are not permitted, including the playgrounds, so it’s important to check the signs in any particular park before you bring your dog.
The outdoor fun isn’t limited to specialized dog parks. Though four-pawed friends must be leashed at all times unless signs say otherwise, the walking paths along the Charles River are popular with dog owners, as are most other city parks. And on Sundays from the end of April through mid-November, Memorial Drive between Western Avenue and South Auburn Street is closed to cars but open to pretty much everyone else: walkers, bikers, runners and, yes, leashed dogs.
Shopping and dining out are two fun warm weather activities that aren’t usually thought of as dog-friendly, but Cambridge does have a few options. Many area farmers markets welcome dogs on leashes, and a few restaurants allow dogs at their outdoor seating areas. Dot Baisly, behavior and enrichment manager at the Animal Rescue League of Boston, says the best strategy for finding out if a dog is allowed somewhere is to just ask politely—though it’s not a foolproof way to get Fido inside. “For many retail stores, dogs are not allowed,” she adds, “and I don’t even bother to ask unless a sign is in place stating that pets are welcome.“
One restaurant popular with dog owners is the Cambridge Brewing Company in Kendall Square, where servers will even bring bowls of water to dogs sitting with their human friends on the patio. “We don’t have an official set of rules, per se, but dogs that are happy to hang out under or near a table with their beer-loving humans are totally cool in our book,” Laura Peters, general manager of the restaurant, says.
Of course, before you and Fido hit the town, there are some things to consider.
“The most important thing to keep in mind when taking a dog in public is simply the dog’s stress level,” says Baisly. “I always tell clients to stop and ask themselves one question before taking their dog anywhere: Will this stress my dog out?” On top of keeping your dog on a short leash, she recommends assessing public places for how crowded and loud—and potentially overwhelming—they could be for your pup.
Since taking your dog out to enjoy the city means that they will be interacting with other people and canines, that can sometimes lead to tense situations, especially with children. “Kids should always be told from any adult possible to not approach dogs without asking the owner first,” Baisly suggests. “I politely tell any child that they must ask my permission before petting my dogs; this is for their own safety.”
And if you own one of those 1,000 or so dogs that the Animal Commission’s McCabe says aren’t licensed? The city hopes that a new program allowing residents to license dogs online will increase the number of owners who do so, as they are, again, required by law. Head to cambridgema.gov/doglicense to register your pup.