GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

November 2, 2013

Council eyes fresh look at city's dog laws

By James Niedzinski
Staff Writer

---- — A City Council subcommittee is calling for an increase in fines for violations of Gloucester’s dog restraint ordinance, and the full council is set to hold a hearing on the issue on Nov. 12, a week after Tuesday’s city elections.

But a city councilor who’s been at the forefront of the issue says he’ll be asking the city to hold off taking that step until officials can take a broader look at the full city ordinance.

Current Ward 5 Councilor Greg Verga said there has been some confusion about what is being suggested, and what was passed years ago. That’s why he took to Facebook, a local message board, and has been fielding constituent questions to set the record straight on what the law already states, and what is being suggested.

He said the issue arose when he got a constituent call from a woman who was walking her leashed dog at Stage Fort Park — next to the newly opened the Gloucester Dog Park — when two larger, unleashed dogs started trouble with the smaller canine.

According to the constituent, the owner of the larger two dogs was less than friendly about the incident, Verga related.

With that, Verga requested a review of the ordinance by the City Council’s subcommittee on Ordinance and Administration, chaired by Sefatia Romeo Theken, with at-large councilor Bob Whynott and Ward 3’s Steve LeBlanc as members. And that panel’s recommendation came back calling for an undefined increase to the fines for a variety of violations.

But Verga hopes that all aspects of the city’s dog ordinance can instead be brought up for review — including a longstanding, and oft-ignored, mandate that all dogs be kept on a six-foot leash.

“We should take all the testimony from both sides — all the input — have another review, and take it from there,” he said.

While the limit is established, and not part of any proposed change at this point, the six-foot leash limit has sparked some residents’ concern.

Verga, like many other dog owners, has an extendable and retractable leash, and he said his two dachshunds can run up to 10 feet with the leash.

“I never knew they were forbidden,” he said.

Verga noted that the city’s ordinance is not easy to police or enforce. He noted that, within the city’s 26 square miles, an animal control officer cannot reasonably be expected to know the whereabouts of every dog on every street and check on the length of any and all leashes.

The city’s overall dog ordinance, established in 1977, has also undergone a series of changes over the last 36 years, Verga noted, including as follows:

Dogs running at large prohibited — 1977, with amendments in 1981.

Dogs prohibited on beaches at certain times of the year — 1998, with additions in 2002.

Dogs prohibited in city-owned cemeteries — 1998.

Dogs prohibited on athletic fields — 2002.

Required confinement of female dogs in heat — 1977, with amendments in 1981.

Dog fouling rules — 1994.

“Even though the only recommendation, at this point, is to look into increasing the violator fines — making them more meaningful,” Verga said, “this is a good time to look at all of the issues, and look at the full ordinance itself.”

James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at jniedzinski@gloucestertimes.com.