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05/17/2019

Proposed dog-ordinance revisions referred to ordinance committee

The Town Council on May 13, 2019 referred draft revisions to the dog ordinance to its ordinance subcommittee.

The proposed revisions were developed by the Conservation Committee, which was charged with reviewing the ordinance because of its ongoing work with dog owners on issues involving open-space management. [news article]

"The Conservation Committee continues to believe that dogs should be allowed off-leash on most town open spaces, but that the safety and comfort of all open space users must be maintained," according to a summary submitted by the committee. "The draft amendments establish more management tools to address problems quickly, and hopefully will eliminate the need for further restrictions."

The most significant change, the summary says, is the proposed creation of three categories for managing dogs on municipal property:

  • Category 1 - No dogs allowed
  • Category 2 - Dogs on-leash only
  • Category 3 - Dogs on-leash or under voice control

Most of the 89 municipal properties listed in the draft are in Category 3, including a 20-acre subsection of Fort Williams Park. In recent years the area has been a source of controversy: In 2018 the area was reconfigured and dogs required to be on-leash at the multipurpose playing fields from April to November. [news article]

To aid enforcement, the draft ordinance defines in detail what is meant by "sight and voice control," and provides more detailed definitions and rules.

The draft also proposes a "Limited Privileges List," where dogs determined by police to be out of control are required to be leashed on Category 3 properties. "This creates an interim tool to address irresponsible behavior by individuals on town open space while still preserving pursuing action in court, which is time consuming for the Police Department and limited," the summary says.

The Town Council would have the authority to change category designations, and sole authority for changes at Fort Williams Park, Lions Field, Plaisted Park and Riverside Cemetery. The draft also describes a procedure for other property managers – suggesting the Conservation Committee for town properties and the superintendent of schools for school properties – to change a category designation.

The authority granted other entities was highlighted by Sea View Avenue resident Tom Meyers, who spoke in support of the draft. "The Conservation Committee I think has come up with a very elegant solution with a really nice range of alternatives on how to handle this process," he said.

Another resident, Roger Rioux of Bridlepath Way, said he believed unleashed dogs at Fort Williams Park should be fenced in, and that no dog should be allowed on athletic fields. "All dogs should have an opportunity to exercise freely and I would encourage that. But I think we need to be careful about that at the park, it is a danger and it is a health risk," he said.

The next meeting of the Ordinance Committee is 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 28, at Town Hall.