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Tying Up the Dog Leash Debate

Do dog owners know what’s coming?

After many months of deliberations, the Representative Town Meeting is finally ready to vote on the proposed dog leash ordinance. The question is: do dog owners know what’s coming?

As a member of the RTM (District IV), I have always tried to represent the interests of my neighbors. When the RTM took up the proposed ordinance last year, I argued before the body that it wasn’t ready for a vote and that the dog owners had not been heard from. Just because the RTM was working on an ordinance didn’t mean that the affected parties knew about it or had been heard from.

I also suggested that RTM members speaking on the issue should disclose any conflict of interest, real or perceived, by identifying if they own a dog. (Being the proud owner of three cats who would never accept a leash, let alone be walked, I really had no stake in the battle.)

Adding further to the confusion was a question of jurisdiction. The Parks and Recreation Commission — a body quite separate and not tied to the RTM — sets rules for what goes on in our parks. The RTM’s proposed ordinance was only to affect dogs in public places (i.e., sidewalks and streets but not parks).

The Parks and Rec folks on their own dog leash rules in July, and they’re pretty confusing: certain parks allow unleashed dogs in certain areas at certain hours. And the Commission is not even sure they have funding to put signs up to let owners know what’s legal. Pretty hard to follow the rules if you don’t know what they are.

Per the draft ordinance: "Except in a dog run established by the Town or any private entity, no owner or keeper shall bring any dog onto any public street, sidewalk or any other public property unless the dog is on a leash or lead that is no more than twenty-five (25) feet and under the control of its owner or keeper at all times."

But both the Parks rules and the proposed RTM ordinance do share common wording on two important matters: dog owners are responsible for stopping their animals from destroying property and must clean up after their animals in a timely and sanitary manner. Seems fair enough, no?

As for my vote, I don’t really know. I hope my neighbors give me their ideas, just as I hope you reach out to your RTM representatives and let them know how you think they should vote. (Click here for a full list of RTM members by district and home phone number.)

Karen Brewer September 21, 2011 at 03:04 PM
come on now....how about a dog park like New Canaan and Rowayton? How about letting dogs run in the early morning hours.How about no unleashed dogs where there are playgrounds? How about no unleashed dogs on the beaches? How abour people just make sure their dogs are not going to bit anyone? We CANT legislate EVERYTHING.Lets get on to some matters with "teeth" Ha.
John Sini September 22, 2011 at 10:43 AM
Someone needs to define the term "dog run."
Tony Imbimbo September 22, 2011 at 01:46 PM
Even more confusing is that the Town Charter gives the Park & Rec commission "exclusive care, management and control of all parks...." But the P&R rules differ from the RTM ordinance. As you mentioned, Jim, the P&R Commission DOES allow dogs off-leash at some parks at specified times. However, the RTM ordinance does not. It says dogs must be on leash everywhere in town (parks included), with the sole exception of a "dog run" that, at the moment, doesn't exist. However, the Charter says only P&R can make rules for the park. It's as clear as mud. To make things less confusing, I think the ordinance should at least add an exemption for parks, stipulating that the P&R commission rules apply to the parks. Ultimately, though, because these rules are extremely hard to enforce -- we have one dog control officer who can't be everywhere at once -- it comes down to dog owners being responsible citizens. Most of them are. Darien has the lowest number of dog incidences of any town of its area. Still, it might make sense for the P&R Commission -- or volunteers -- to educate the public on dog safety, explain the leash rules, offer tips on how to properly socialize dogs, etc. If public safety were truly a concern, you might see something like this happen.
Cheryl Russell September 22, 2011 at 05:28 PM
Please go to the Town web site darienct.gov at top hit Park and Recreation then on left hit Rules and Regulations. On page 3 Sec. 42R29 states the new rules for dogs off and on leash. The dog run/area will be in the front of Cherry Lawn Park and signs are forthcoming The Animal Control Officer along with the Darien Police will issue tickets. Yes the Park and Recreation Commission has "Exclusive" care of the parks. The RTM voted for that a few years back. The Ordinance that the RTM will vote on next week is for dogs to be leashed on sidewalk and streets. An Ordinance and the P&R rules are totality different Hope this helps.
John Davisson September 22, 2011 at 05:49 PM
Here's a direct link to those regulations, for anyone who's interested: http://www.darienct.gov/filestorage/106/116/9453/PR_RULES__REGULATIONS_FINAL_July_2011.pdf Plus our story on the approval from June: http://darien.patch.com/articles/parks-rec-approves-basic-contours-of-leash-law
John Sini September 23, 2011 at 10:49 AM
There is still conflicting language between the ordinance and the Parks and Rec rules that needs to be cleaned up. As I understand it, Stony Brook park will be off-leash at all hours. Is that not a "public space?"
John Sini September 23, 2011 at 11:00 AM
Jim, RTM dog owners should be able to disclose their personal interests at their will without pressure from others - just as they do when discussing school budgets, affordable housing, and senior center issues, etc. Please don't make that same request Monday.
Chris Noe September 29, 2011 at 10:19 AM
I voted against it. I wanted a law with some teeth. For the record I don't own a dog. I was bitten in the face by one in 1995. The owner said, "It had never happened before." The truth was, I was the third person to be bitten in the face by that dog. My police complaint was useless because there was no law in Ketchum, Idaho. 16 months later the same dog bit a 7 year old girl (same age as my daughter at the time) walking on the sidewalk. She lost her eye. Place your hand over one of your eyes and imagine your life like that. We need a clear law that defines specific dog attacks because it shows the clear risk of another attack. We need to define clear police power, where the police take your dog for destruction. Any resistance will be considered "Interfering with an Officer." Top of the list for "first offense" dog destruction are: 1. Bites a child under 12 2. Face Bite 3. Pack attack- Dogs are pack animals. When two or more dogs "pack attack" a person or another dog. 4. An attack that produces two bites. 5. An attack where the dogs bites does not release and shakes it's head. Dog owners need to report every bite in 24 hours or be subject to arrest. These rules/laws are not to make anyone's life miserable. They are to prevent someone like the 7 year old's life from becoming miserable. We need laws that make it impossible for dangerous dogs to be in Darien. The new Leash Law is more public nuisance than public safety.
Chris Noe September 29, 2011 at 10:39 AM
What's next??? Hire another cop at $50,000.00 a year to write 50 dollar tickets. I'm not feeling the "public safety" of the 40 hour a week cop (7AM to 3PM) offering this "protection." I don't get the "warm and tingly" feeling knowing about the two weeks sick-time, two weeks vacation-time and a dozen holidaze/ personal daze. Where did they get the Leash Law in a box of Animal Crackers??? "Job Creation" government-style... has got to stop.

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