Whoever let the dogs out need take notice: The Essex Tree Farm will no longer allow the four-legged pets onto its premises.

Michael Lampron, president of the Tree Farm Management Group, said the change follows a rise in dog-related issues, from feces and chewed-up sticks littering the playing fields to dogs chasing players mid-game. He said even though he believes many people are responsible pet owners, “it’s one of those things where it had to be an all or nothing rule.”

“This is neither a rec park or a dog park,” Lampron said. “It’s a sports complex, and its intention is to provide space for community athletics to happen. It’s really for the players, for the kids and adults to be able to have a safe space to play.”

The tree farm complex is owned by the town and village and managed by Lampron’s volunteer-run group, which operates independently from the municipalities, relying on rental fees instead of local taxes to pay for maintenance to the fields, entry road and parking lot.

The management group will decide over time what’s the best approach to enforcing the new rule. Lampron said he hoped people will respect the policy instead of making the group hand out fines.

Reaction to the change was mostly positive on social media last week. A post in the Essex community Facebook group garnered dozens of commenters, most of whom said they understood the change. Several others expressed disappointment, however, noting the Tree Farm is among their regular dog-walking spots.

The policy change comes two years after the Essex Police Department announced plans to rewrite a local ordinance that it said would help enforce the town’s leash law – a response to a spike in vicious dog complaints and bite incidents.

Local ordinances require dogs to be leashed off their owner’s property, excluding the dog park and Indian Brook and Saxon Hill parks. Yet police say many owners don’t comply, with EPD data showing 19 reported incidents of bites or vicious dog complaints in 2015. Meanwhile, there’s been more than 40 bite complaints in each of the last three years, most of which involved a human victim.

Police Chief Rick Garey told the Reporter earlier this year the department is in the “final review process” for a new ordinance in the town and village. The ordinance will need to go to the elected boards and pass through several public hearings before it can be enacted.

After discussing the management group’s reasoning behind the change, Lampron said the volunteers were initially unsure how much explanation they would provide to the public. Asked why, Lampron said, “When it comes to kids safety, it’s not a debatable issue.”