Thursday, October 20, 2005

Tighter dog rules on the way

Published in the Current

SOUTH PORTLAND (Oct 20, 2005): Clearer rules governing dogs in public spaces in South Portland got unanimous council approval in a preliminary vote Monday.

The changes include specifying that dogs not on leashes will be under “voice command,” which is for the first time defined in a city ordinance, as meaning the owner can see the dog and the dog comes when called.

Other changes require that dogs be leashed on public roads, sidewalks, parking lots and on the city’s Greenbelt walkway, and that leashes be no longer than eight feet unless it is a retractable leash, in which case the maximum length is 16 feet.

The council will hold a public hearing on the changes on Monday, Nov. 7, at 7:30 p.m. in City Hall, and is expected to take a final vote on the measures at that same meeting.

A committee created by City Manager Jeff Jordan will continue to meet to discuss revamping the city’s fines for violations of dog-control rules, as well as potential fees for dogs to use public spaces, and possibly restricting the hours dogs are allowed in parks and on Willard Beach. That committee will next meet on Friday, Oct. 28.

Claude Morgan, president of the South Portland Dog Owners Group and a candidate for the District 1 seat on the City Council, said he supported the measures given preliminary approval Monday. “This is born of compromise,” he said.

David Bourke, a leading proponent of dog control and also a District 1 candidate, said the proposals “will make it a lot easier for enforcement.” He also said it will “give non-dog-owners, people who want to be safe on the streets, peace of mind.”

Both Morgan and Bourke are members of the city manager’s task force on dog rules.

The proposals approved by the council gained endorsements from two other dog owners who have not been extensively involved in the discussions so far.

Marc Gup of Loveitt’s Field Road, who often takes his dog to Willard Beach, said “it sounds like a fair thing” to clarify the rules. He said Willard Beach is a safe place for his dog, but asked councilors to consider a speed bump on Preble Street to make the road safer for people who walk and bicycle there, including dog walkers.

“Those cars go 50 miles an hour down that road,” he said.

Rommy Brown of E Street said she had “no objection” to the proposals. She urged the committee studying dog issues to “expand enormously” to better reflect the interests of the wider community.

“There are people who do not own dogs or do not like dogs or who have physical challenges” who need representation going forward, she said.

Councilors disagreed on how to do that, with outgoing District 1 Councilor David Jacobs proposing a standing city committee based on “animal control committee” groups in other communities in other states.

In South Portland, “this has become an emotional issue,” he said. “Neither side is wrong.” He asked that the council hold off on additional changes to the dog-control rules to explore having a standing committee, appointed by the councilors, to address the recurring issues.

District 3 Councilor Rosemarie DeAngelis said she would explore such an idea, but did not want to delay the ongoing work of the committee, which she has recently joined.

At-large Councilor Linda Boudreau said she supported Jacobs’s idea, and also called for a council study of the proposal, saying dog-control problems have “come back every single year I’ve been on the council.”

She also asked the committee to discuss possible rules about people walking four or five dogs at a time, and said she was glad the council had moved forward to codify consequences “when you whistle or call your dog and he runs for the hills.”