Falmouth panels pare pet-control proposals

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FALMOUTH — Proposals for regulating pets on public lands were unveiled at a meeting attended by fewer than 10 residents.

Ted Asherman, chairman of the Land Management and Acquisitions Committee, said Monday that the recommendations – including an expanded leash law and increased communications – came as a result of a similar forum in January, when members outlined problems and issues reported to the town, such as people getting knocked down by dogs or owners not picking up after their pets.

“We got a lot of very good, quantifiable information from the group,” Asherman said.

Asherman said LMAC, and the Parks and Community Programs Advisory Committee, used the information to come up with proposals, which he cautioned are only suggestions.

“This is not the end all,” Asherman told the few people in the audience, but instead was an opportunity for people to leave with an understanding of the proposals.

Lucky D’Ascanio, director of parks and community programs, outlined the list of recommendations. She said based on the January forum, seven initial proposals came forward, but the two committees were not recommending all of them.

The first recommendation is that better signage is needed to alert residents about picking up after their pets and keeping dogs within voice control. The second recommendation is working on better communication between the town and  residents about the rules. D’Ascanio said town staff will be working to increase communication when they have the opportunity, such as when people register their dogs.

The third recommendation is recruiting volunteers to act as rangers to enforce the rules. D’Ascanio said the two committees thought it was a possibility, but volunteers are probably not feasible as agents of enforcement.

“The reality with volunteers is, they don’t have any clout,” Asherman said.

The fourth recommendation would be requiring pets to be on leash within 300 feet of a trail head and parking lot. Asherman and D’Ascanio said trail heads are usually where negative interactions are most likely to occur.

The committees are not recommending the remaining proposals. One was to differentiate rules according to specific properties, as some neighboring towns do. D’Ascanio said doing that could be cumbersome to both the town and residents.

“Our goal is to make it pretty understandable,” Asherman said.

A sixth proposal, which the committees did not recommend, included having a system to dispose of pet waste in the park, with bags and receptacles. D’Ascanio said this would make an exception to the carry in/carry out rule, and said research has shown properties with bags have had more littering problems than those without.

The final proposal, again which the committees is not recommending, was to limit the number of pets a person could walk at a given time. Asherman said having pets on leashes within 300 feet of a trail head would mitigate most of the problems.

Those problems include sanitation, the safety of those frightened by dogs, and wildlife, such as nesting birds and deer yards.

The proposals are a result of a handful of assumptions, Asherman said. The first is that people in town need a place to walk their pets. The second is, all those who use parks and public lands should feel safe. And the third is, uncontrolled pets can have a negative affect on people, other pets and wildlife.

The committees are also recommending having one place, the River Point Conservation Area, as a pet-free place year round. They also recommended the Woods Road Community Forest be closed to pets from Dec. 1 to March 31 each year, as it is an area where deer yard up in the winter.

“The challenge of what we’re up against …  is to find the sweet spot between pet owners, non pet owners and wildlife,” Asherman said. He said no one should take the notion that pets were going to be banned outright across all town properties.

These regulations, should they be adopted by the Town Council, would only apply to town-owned properties. They would not apply to any land owned and managed by the Falmouth Land Trust.

The recommendations were not all met with approval. Town resident Carl ter Weele said he didn’t see the need for the 300-foot rule, saying putting it in place would be “knocking out one group for another.” He also said without enforcement for the regulations, “it’s a joke.”

“We can talk until we’re blue in the face,” he said.

The committees will review the feedback they got from the second forum, with the plan to propose final recommendations to the council sometime in the fall. It is then up to councilors to decide if they want to take up the matter.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.