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Approved rules prohibit dogs from municipal playing fields year-round

Starting next month, dogs will no longer be allowed on the surfaces of athletic playing fields owned by the town.

The Town Council on Sept. 9, 2019 approved amendments to the dog ordinance, including a management plan that prohibits dogs from municipal playing fields at any time of year, whether they are on-leash or off. [ Memo] [ Draft Ordinance] [ Draft Management Category Designations]

The prohibition applies to municipally owned playing fields throughout town, including the school campus, Gull Crest, Lions Field, Plaisted Park, and all fields in Fort Williams Park.

The ordinance approved Sept. 9 represents a modernization of dog regulations in town, one that was promised early in 2018 when councilors revised rules for dogs on the multipurpose fields at Fort Williams Park. [news article]

The multipurpose fields generated the deepest divide among councilors, who took separate votes Sept. 9 on how the management plan should apply to different fields. As recently as 2017, the multipurpose fields were part of an area where dogs could run unleashed year-round, but that designation changed when councilors, in January 2018, voted to restrict unleashed dogs on the fields to the off-season Nov. 2-March 30.

The Sept. 9 vote to ban dogs from the multipurpose fields year-round passed 4-3, with councilors Chris Straw, Jeremy Gabrielson and Valerie Randall opposed. "I think the agreement that is in place now reflects a compromise," said Gabrielson, reminding councilors that the town will soon be revising the master plan for Fort Williams Park. "I would much rather have that conversation in the context of a larger master plan," he said.

The approved ordinance applies three categories of management – no dogs allowed, dogs allowed on-leash only, and dogs allowed off-leash/under voice control – to different municipal properties and gives the School Board, Conservation Committee or the Town Council authority and a process to change category designations.

Before approving the ordinance, councilors voted to reword part of the draft to more clearly describe a dog that is not under voice control. Another suggestion to shorten the required leash length from 30 feet to 15 feet failed to pass, with only councilors Chris Straw, Valerie Deveraux and Valerie Randall supporting. Overall the ordinance was approved 6-1, with Deveraux opposed.

In a separate vote, councilors approved the management plan 6-1, with Randall opposed. A motion by Randall to allow dogs on fields seasonally, as they are on the multipurpose fields, failed, with only Randall supporting. "I'd rather make a rule that is reasonable and people will follow," she said, pointing to Fort Williams Park fields as an example. "People have, from what I've heard at least, been respectful of it and I imagine if we did that with all the athletic fields we'd see the same thing," Randall said.

Other councilors, however, said they agreed with town residents who have called for no dogs on athletic fields. "Really the issue is the health and safety of our residents," said Councilor Deveraux. And, although she agreed that the town needs accessible areas for dogs to go in the winter, athletic fields account for only a small portion of the municipal property available, she said. "We need to be fair to all of our residents," Deveraux said.