Leash Regulations Pitched For Spring Town Meeting

By: Ryan Bray

Topics: Orleans news , Animals

The Orleans Select Board is considering creating new regulations that would require dogs to be leashed in public unless otherwise designated. RYAN BRAY PHOTO

ORLEANS -- For many dog owners, one of the simple pleasures of visiting or living in Orleans is being able to let their pets off their leash.

The town does not currently require that dogs be leashed when out in public, but that could soon change.

Orleans Police Chief Scott MacDonald came to the select board Dec. 8 with a proposal to update the town's animal control bylaw at the annual town meeting this spring to include leash regulations.

MacDonald said the "overwhelming" majority of dog owners in town are responsible. But there have been instances in which police have had to respond to and investigate incidents involving dog bites, including a "severe" incident a few years ago.

"It was just awful to see," he said. "We have to prevent that. We have to do anything we can to prevent the risk of that happening again."

Select board members questioned how any sort of leash requirement would be enforced, noting that there's a longstanding precedent for people to let dogs run off-leash at areas such as Nauset Beach, Skaket Beach and Kent's Point.

"We have a large group of dog owners who are very attached to letting their dogs run free," select board member Andrea Reed said. She questioned whether a leash requirement would prevent bites, saying that there have been incidents in which bites have occurred when dogs are on leashes. But Casey Eagan, the town's animal control officer, said the incidents referenced concerned unleashed animals.

Nate Sears, the town's natural resources manager, suggested that there could be a middle ground in terms of enforcement. He said the bylaw could be revised to require dog owners to have a leash in their possession. Dogs could be required to be leashed when they are within a specific distance of other dogs or people, he suggested.

"If you're out in the middle of nowhere with no one around, there shouldn't be an issue with letting your dog off the leash to chase a ball and let a little bit of energy out," he said.

But Reed said there are groups in town that come together at different spots in town to socialize with their dogs.

"How do we balance what people are enjoying right now without harm?" she said.

For select board chairman Meffird Runyon, figuring out how to regulate the use of leashes first requires understanding the scope of the problem. Wondering whether the problem is year-round or more a concern during the summer months, he asked if there should be separate regulations for the summer months and the offseason.

"I just have a million questions when it comes to enforcement," he said.

Others on the board raised the environmental impacts that come with letting dogs run unleashed. Kevin Galligan said dog waste can set the town back on its efforts to clean up its waterways and protect them from nitrogen pollution.

The town has fines in place for people who fail to clean up after their pets, Eagan said. Violators are fined $25 for a first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense, she said.

MacDonald said police do not want to be punitive in enforcing any leash regulations. The department wants to lean more on educating people about any future regulations, he said.

"The last thing we want to do is give anyone a ticket," he said.

This is not the first time leash regulations have been considered in town. Galligan recalled a past town meeting where an attempt to pass a leash law was voted down.

"I'm in support of doing exactly what the chief said," Galligan said. "We do need to sell it from now until town meeting."
Galligan suggested that the existing bylaw be revised to require dogs to be leashed "unless otherwise designated." This would give the town the flexibility to earmark places and times where owners can let their pets run free.

The select board plans to hold a future public hearing about the proposed bylaw change ahead of the spring town meeting.

Email Ryan Bray at ryan@capecodchronicle.com