Berlin Seeks Big Fines For Dog Ordinance Offenders

BERLIN – A mere four weeks after citizen Pete Cosby went before his elected officials with numerous canine complaints, the Berlin Mayor and Council had the first reading of the new leash law Monday night.

The ordinance currently on the books does not restrict dogs to a leash when off the owner’s property, including an exception for dogs “under the control of the owner or authorized agent of the owner.”

“That’s the change, now it’s strictly on the leash,” said Council member Ellen Lang.

Cosby said the town’s action on the least law was not his primary intent, rather he sought an increase in fines, particularly for barking dogs.

“I really wasn’t a proponent of leashes so much,” said Cosby. “I don’t mind if dogs run free, personally, as long as a dog is a safe dog. … The problem is, when you make a complaint there is no big sanction.”

Under the proposed ordinance, fines would be increased from $75 to $250 for a first offense, and $400, up from $100, for every offense thereafter.

Cosby originally suggested increasing fines substantially, with $500 assessed for the first offense, and fines for each incident thereafter going up in $500 increments, with a second incident garnering a $1,000 fine, a third, $1,500, and so forth.

Under town code, fines cannot exceed $400, however.

There was some concern over the implementation of the three-page ordinance, which regulates nuisances, loose dogs and dangerous dogs.

Some are worried that the ordinance could punish so-called “good” dogs.

Berlin resident and dog owner Bob Forrester was concerned that well-behaved and well-trained dogs, like his, would be penalized if walked without a leash but under the owner’s vocal control.

“I think the town tries to be as liberal as possible,” said Council Vice President Gee Williams.

People are abusing the “under control” standard, Williams said, which led to the more restrictive law. He recalled that a loose dog came into his yard and killed his own dog.

Mayor Tom Cardinale related an instance when his wife had to take a loose dog back to its owner four times in one day.

Forrester agreed that there was an issue with dogs roaming the town.

“My dog has been attacked twice on walks by loose dogs,” he said.

Forrester said his own dog is well trained, however.

“I was hoping that we’re not going to lump all dogs [together],” he said.

Williams said that there is no way to determine ahead of time how a dog will behave.

“I’m hoping we’re not going to go after someone with a well trained dog,” Forrester persisted. “I don’t want to get fined $250 for my good dog.”

The town is trying to prevent attacks, said Williams, not interfere with good dogs and responsible owners.

The police department will be instructed to use their discretion. The police would only act on receipt of a complaint about loose, nuisance or dangerous dogs. They will not be patrolling the streets to hand out tickets for canine infractions.

Under the ordinance, if passed, resident dogs will have to be registered with Worcester County and wear collar and registration tag. Visiting dogs are excluded from this requirement. All dogs must be walked on a leash not longer than eight feet when off home property.

The legislation governs dogs that bite, claw or injure a person and can classify aggressive dogs as dangerous to other animals, or more seriously, dangerous to people.

Police may also be called for nuisance dogs that chase cars or bikes, destroy plants or other animals, excessive barking or any behavior that “interferes with enjoyment of life or property.”

The law contains a provision that a dog being pursued by a human in an attempt to regain control of the dog is not considered a loose dog.

The police will provide live animal traps to those complaining of loose dogs and will assist in setting the trap if necessary.

Owners would have to retrieve a trapped dog from the police department by 4 p.m. that day or the dog would be transported to the Worcester County Animal Control facility.

“I’m just appreciative the Mayor and Council got right on top of it and did something about it,” Cosby said. “I’m just very happy they responded.”

Many townsfolk have thanked him for speaking up about the ongoing dog issues, according to Cosby.

“A lot of people in town are having problems with dogs,” he said

Dog owners might pay more attention to their pets’ behavior now, Cosby hopes.

Cosby went to the council in the wake of an incident over Memorial Day weekend where his daughter’s boyfriend was attacked and bitten by a Labrador retriever while riding a bike. There are no lasting issues stemming from the incident.

“He’s healed up fine,” said Cosby. “The matter has been amicably settled.”