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Conservation Committee to take broader look at dog ordinance

The Conservation Committee will take a broader look at changes to the town's dog ordinance before making recommendations to the Town Council.

The council on Nov. 14, 2018 voted to expand the scope of the committee's review to include the entire dog ordinance, not just the section governing dogs on municipal property.

The review stems from the council's January decision to seasonally prohibit off-leash dogs in areas of Fort Williams Park. [news article] Because the Conservation Committee had already worked with dog owners in developing the town's greenbelt and open space plans, councilors also directed the committee to recommend updates to the section of the ordinance governing dogs on municipal property.

A sticking point in the ordinance has been defining "groomed" municipal areas where dogs must be leashed, said Jeremy Gabrielson, chair of the Conservation Committee. "What the committee has looked at is, rather than defining groomed areas and ungroomed areas, taking the approach of ... different categories of use that would be applied to those properties," he said. However, creation of enforcement categories could impact other areas of the ordinance, he said.

The categories are yet to be determined, but they could include no dogs, leashed dogs, unleased dogs or dogs under voice command. Categories could apply to specific municipal properties such as Winnick Woods and Cliff House Beach for example, and could change with the season or for other reasons.

Gabrielson said recommendations being contempated could also grant a body other than the Town Council authority to change seasons or categories, which may allow more flexibility in addressing complaints about dog behavior at Cliff House Beach.

"So the committee, before diving too much farther into that ordinance, wanted to come back and just get a sense from council if that seems like a sensible approach to bringing some greater clarity to the dog ordinance," Gabrielson said. The committee also asks whether they should be looking at the whole ordinance, or just "that one section that's proven problematic?"

Councilor's lauded the committee's creativity and agreed that a review of the entire ordinance made sense, but the suggestion to leave some proposed category assignments to different authorities, such as department heads or to the Conservation Committee, instead of the Town Council was less agreeable. "I do think because I always favor consistency in laws I think ... the changes in enforcement categories could get a little bit messy," said Councilor Valerie Randall.

Councilor Caitlin Jordan also said she would need convincing that enforcement categories should be moved by any authority other than the Town Council, but both she and Randall said they would be willing to look at a proposal.

Two other councilors, Sara Lennon and Chair Jessica Sullivan, had reservations about a "voice control" enforcement category. "Voice control? That's just saying that your dog's free," Lennon said. She and Sullivan, who said she's owned dog all of her life and trained them to some degree, agreed that only a very few dogs actually achieve that level of obedience. "I would just have it be 'no dogs allowed,' 'dogs on leash' or 'dogs off leash,'" Lennon said. "Because to me it's just naming a truth."