Dog Ordinance Meeting

I’d hoped to liveblog from the Esther Howland Chamber, to cover the City Council Standing Committee on Public Health and Human Services Meeting.  Alas, connectivity on my laptop wasn’t the best, and I was running late (though not as late as Rick Rushton) so here’s my summary:

The only item for discussion was a proposed dog ordinance.  The only regular citizen of Worcester in the room was me.  Allie Simone, the acting director of the Worcester Animal Rescue League, was on hand to give her comments, but she’s a resident of West Boylston.  (Am I the last person in this city to find out that the notorious Doreen Currier/LaPorte is out as director of WARL?)

Each councilor (Rosen, Haller, Rushton) questioned whether this amendment to the ordinance was needed. 

It seemed that neither the animal control department, nor the city solicitor, had sufficient time to see if other communities had similar ordinances to the one in question.  Right before the meeting, the solicitor found that Leominster has something similar.

Steve Donahue, of animal control, said that when he started, there was a big problem with dogs on the loose.  Now, they get around five complaints a week of loose dogs, ten on a busy week.

Councilor Rushton asked Donahue whether this new rule would help or hurt, whether it would make a neighborhood more enjoyable or just keep things at the status quo.  Donahue replied that it would make things more difficult, especially in determining whether they could enter someone’s yard to take a dog.   

Allie Simone, speaking on behalf of WARL, and a former student of Rosen’s, thinks the current leash law is important but doesn’t see the importance of the proposed ordinance.  She said that the problem is with irresponsible dog owners (the ones who don’t license or vaccinate their pets).

There were some figures bandied about – the number of dogs in the city is estimated at 10,000, based on vaccination records from vets, according to the City Clerk.  About 72% of those are licensed.  Compared to many communities, Worcester has reasonable license fees.  He also mentioned that Worcester is one of only two communities where you can pay dog license fees online.  I believe this is only for renewals.

Allie Simone mentioned a dog park and that seemed to be the one bit of excitement in the chamber.  She and Donahue both agreed that dog parks are an excellent way for dogs to socialize, release energy, and get exercise. 

Concilor Rushton noted that there is a de facto dog park at Boynton Park.  A gentleman from animal control whose name I did not catch said that it’s used by people from far and wide (as far away as Framingham) and that people on the web identify it as a dog park.

Per Rushton’s request, Councilor Rosen files a chairman’s order to explore fees and rules for dog parks in other communities.  He also notes that Park Spirit is looking into this as well.

Rosen feels that “the new amendment is barking up the wrong tree” (yes, I’ve spared you from all the previous dog puns) and the proposed ordinance does not pass.

Councilor Haller asks a final question about whether there are new trends regarding dogs (pit bulls, breeding, etc.)  Donahue notes that there’s definitely an uptick in the number of pit bulls.  Fifty-three percent of the dogs that animal control brings to WARL are pit bulls. 

Haller does have some concerns about this.  As do I, but for different reasons.  Banning pit bulls has already been discussed, so I’m not exactly sure where Haller’s going with this.  “Pit bull” is not a breed, and it means different things to different people. 

So — dog lovers — expect more discussion on both dog parks and pit bulls.  It should also be noted that the makeup of this committee will be changing soon — Councilor Rosen will be out, and the incoming Mayor will decide who makes up the committee.

I would write more but I’ve got to head to the Great Books Discussion Group at the WPL.

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