BERLIN – Two weeks after a concerned citizen raised the issue of dogs running at-large in the town of Berlin, creating safety and noise problems, elected officials this week got a look at a fairly restrictive ordinance to curtail the four-legged citizens’ behavior.
At the last Mayor and Council meeting, local attorney and long-time West Street resident Pete Cosby urged the elected officials to put more teeth in the town’s current municipal ordinance concerning the control of dogs in Berlin. An incident on Memorial Day when a neighborhood dog with a history of infractions bit Cosby’s daughter’s boyfriend as he rode a bike on West Street served as the catalyst for the request, but the town planning commission chair said he had been fighting a losing battle with dogs running at-large in Berlin for the 26 years he has lived on the street.
To that end, the council instructed town attorney Dave Gaskill to take a closer look at Berlin’s ordinance regarding dogs and recommend any appropriate changes to the code. On Wednesday, Gaskill presented two recommendations for changes to the code to the council for review.
In the first recommendation, dogs would no longer be allowed off an owner’s property except on a leash. The current code allows dogs off an owner’s property without a leash as long as the animal is under the control of the owner. In addition, the proposed change requires dogs be kept on a leash no longer than eight feet, which some on the council believed was too extreme.
“Eight feet seems onerous,” said Councilwoman Paula Lynch. “It goes from no leash to an eight-foot leash. Measure out eight feet. That dog is on a very short leash.”
Gaskill said he borrowed the eight-foot leash limitation from similar ordinances in the county and the state and that the council was welcome to suggest something different if it desired.
“That’s been in there for years and years,” he said. “We can take that out if you want and make it read just ‘on a leash’. The town ordinance can be more restrictive than the county or the state ordinance.”
However, others on the council suggested the eight-foot requirement was a good one.
“It’s an issue of control,” said Councilman Elroy Brittingham. “I like the eight feet.”
Gaskill’s second recommendation calls for significant increases in the fine structure. The current code calls for a $75 fine for a first offense of the town’s dog ordinance and a $100 fine for any subsequent offenses. The recommendation proposed by Gaskill on Wednesday would make the fine $250 for a first offense and $400 for any subsequent offense.
“The reason I set it at $400 is because there is another section of the code that puts a cap on municipal infractions at $400,” he said. “We can change that if you like, but we would have to change the other sections of the code.”
The code also includes language that makes the distinction between “potentially dangerous” dogs and “dangerous or deadly” dogs with different enforcement criteria for each. Police Chief Arnold Downing explained a potentially dangerous dog is one that poses a threat to other domesticated animals, while a dangerous or deadly dog is one that has posed a threat to a person.
“Once that distinction is made, certain other things kick in,” he said. “For example, a dangerous or deadly dog could be required to wear a muzzle or be contained in a cage when it is off the owner’s premises.”
Downing said in extreme cases, the town has other options for controlling a dangerous dog at its disposal.
“If we had a situation where we had repeated attacks by a dog, we can ask that the dog be removed from the town and forced to live elsewhere,” he said. “We certainly don’t want to see any dogs put down, but that’s a measure of last resort in here also.”