ORLEANS — The selectmen and town administrator are working on including a wide-ranging discussion about rules for dogs and their owners on the agenda for their July 17 meeting.
“We had agreed to get into this after [last year's] dangerous dog hearings,” Selectman Mefford Runyon said at the board's July 3 meeting. “We were talking about soup to nuts, regulations, enforcement.” Earlier, he observed, “Everybody's talking about a task force. Should it be an ad hoc committee? How do we get representation across the town?”
Town Administrator John Kelly said the board could emulate the conservation commission's approach to setting up rules for Kent's Point, one of the areas under the commission's control. The commission organized a task force, including residents of the immediate area, and “met for quite a while,” he said.
“An important piece would be to make sure citizens know and understand they are part of this whole process,” Selectmen Chairman Mark Mathison said. “I'm wondering how we set this up so it's not viewed as us or whoever sitting in one spot and everybody else sitting out there. This needs to be shared effort to come up with something acceptable.”
On July 3, some of the people “sitting out there” in the Nauset Room rose to speak on behalf of dogs and the right to walk them by the water. Pamela Bankert said she'd been to Wildflower Lane, where restrictions on walking dogs were placed, twice a week recently with her two dogs and found “a banana peel, one half of a lemon, a tissue, and one large dog poop, which I cleaned up. I have not seen any amount of excrement reported by other people. Everyone has been very respectful and clean. I remind the board that coyotes live here in huge numbers, and their excrement looks exactly like that of a large dog.”
David Abel said he “really didn't understand” the basis for the selectmen's restrictions at the location. He said he reviewed police records from 2012 to 2019 and found eight total reports in the Wildflower area, six having to do with dogs,” and “only one was close to an incident.” A dog was asleep, a man startled it by getting too close, and it nipped him in the leg. The police responded, said Abel, “put a Band-Aid on it, and he said he was fine.”
Abel said banning dogs at Wildflower increases such activity at Kent's Point. “Instead of spreading the use out, it concentrates it,” he said. Exercising dogs at “narrow and small” town landings with all their activity is not much of an option either.
The week's timing of high tides effectively banned dogs at Wildflower Lane around the clock, according to Abel, who noted that the location “is the only point of access to many, many acres to the west.” He asked the board “to consider the evidence in a dispassionate way. If you have issues, some of us would like to know what they are, and if a debate is needed to reveal the evidence. Absent that, (we should) have access to the beach all day, every day.”
“This is something that has to be done sooner rather than later,” Selectman Cecil Newcomb said near the end of last week's meeting. “At every public comment, this is all we hear. There's a lot of passion among dog owners in this town. A lot of people want change. It's not necessarily going to happen, but we need to look at it.”
Earlier in the session, Newcomb cast the sole vote against confirming a decision a previous board of selectmen made as park commissioners in 2015. The original vote stated that the rule prohibiting pets on the beach or beach parking lots from April 1 through Labor Day also applied to Skaket Beach. Resident Karl Oakes had questioned the validity of that restriction in a recent open meeting complaint. On June 18, Oakes filed a second complaint that found deficiencies in the agenda posted for the June 19 meeting, including use of the legal but not universally known 70 Willie Atwood address rather than “the Wildflower parking lot west of Skaket Beach.” He also complained that the listing of the discussion of his first open meeting law complaint provided no details and thus was insufficient notice. At last week's meeting, the board approved a response that reiterated that the legal address of the property had been used properly and noted that the full original complaint was included in the selectmen's meeting packet available online before the meeting.