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Conservation Committee to review rules for dogs on municipal property

The Town Council is making good on its January, 2018 promise to take a comprehensive look at how leash laws are applied to different municipally owned areas in town.

Councilors on March 12, 2018 authorized the Conservation Committee to review the section of the dog ordinance that governs dog restraint on municipal property. The committee is expected to recommend updates to the council, which will then likely send them to their ordinance subcommittee for further review and drafting before holding a public hearing and adoption.

The move comes after the council's Jan. 8 decision to prohibit unleashed dogs on the multipurpose playing field at Fort Williams Park between April 1 and Nov. 1 [news article]. There was also consensus at the time to clarify how leash laws apply to municipal properties beyond Fort Williams Park.

Since the dog ordinance was last revised in 1990, the town has acquired several parcels popular with dog owners, including Gull Crest and Winnick Woods, said Town Manager Matthew Sturgis. There have also been questions about whether leashes are required for dogs on municipally owned beach areas. "There was confusion for staff, and the public, so I thought it might be a time to get a review of that section of the ordinance, to update it to take into account current assets that the town has," Sturgis said.

He recommended, and the council agreed, that the Conservation Committee look at the ordinance and come back with a recommendation. "(This issue) brought me to think about our open space management plan that the Conservation Committee did back in 2011-2012," Sturgis said. "At least going back to that point (the committee has) had a good opportunity to have open dialogue with a lot of the dog owners and dog walkers within the community."

The management policy on pets in the 2012 Open Space Management Plan restates the ordinance requirement that all dogs on groomed town properties be on a leash. Dogs may be off-leash in ungroomed open-space areas, the policy says, as long as they do not bother wildlife or other users. "The Town Dog Ordinance, Sec. 7-1-7, may need to be amended for clarification and consistency with this policy," the plan says.

At their meeting March 14 there was some concern among councilors that the time it may take for both the Conservation Committee and the Ordinance Committee to make recommendations would put a squeeze on dog-walking season, but Sturgis said he believed the Conservation Committee's familiarity with the issues will keep things moving. "It's not an emergency situation that we have here as far as revising the ordinance, it's been working fine all along, it's just a question of updating it," Sturgis said.