Harrison updating dog ordinance; dog park a possibility?

 

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

HARRISON — A workshop discussion last week by Harrison Selectmen on an updated Dog Ordinance sparked a lively discussion about one question the revisions did not address. What about creating a dog park?

Town Clerk Melissa St. John said the focus by the Dog Ordinance Committee in updating the 1994 rules was more basic. “Our ordinance is grievously outdated” and doesn’t conform with state law, she said.

Moreover, the town’s animal control officer needed “guidance and some authority” to deal with dog complaints that arise, she said, particularly in places where children are playing. The new rules address restrictions specific to the town’s playing fields, beaches and playgrounds, and requires dog owners to clean up after their dogs on public property.

The language in the draft dog ordinance and a new Safe Zone Ordinance are being prepared for an upcoming public hearing in order to be presented to voters for approval this June.

The rules are not meant to be harsh, St. John said. “We just want people to be responsible pet owners.” Town Manager George “Bud” Finch praised the efforts of the committee, who he said worked long and hard on a document that is “totally community-driven.”

He noted later that the need to update the dog ordinance has been apparent ever since the RADR sports fields were created, and dog owners would go there when no games were being played. “They were putting the dogs in the ballfield and closing the fence and letting the dogs run — and that’s not acceptable,” he said. “The kids are playing on that grass.”

Selectman Matt Frank asked why Mill Park was not mentioned, when other town-owned properties were, such as Crystal Lake Park, Long Lake Beach, the RADR Sports Complex. St. John said the committee focused on the places used most, and “didn’t feel Mill Park was as essential as Crystal Lake Park.”

There were discussions about turning the area into a designated dog park, she said, but the committee decided not to go forward with anything specific at this time.

Finch said Mill Park “really isn’t much of a park anymore,” although “the intentions were wonderful” when the space at the old mill was so designated as a park. He said that the town has other issues at Mill Park, with its dam and its river, that raise liability concerns and are “harder to police and patrol.”

Selectman Richard St. Pierre noted that if a grassroots effort arose to create a dog park there, the town might look favorably on it, but noted that in order to create a dog park there, the area would need to be fenced.

Finch said the updated dog ordinance stands on its own as a good, strong document, and cautioned against becoming distracted by debate over the need for and best location for a dog park. “A lot of people have been part of making this happen,” he said of the ordinance.

Chairman Cathy Laplante recommended, and the rest of the board agreed, that the softball field at Crystal Lake Park be added to the list of places where dogs are not allowed to “wander, urinate or defecate.” The gazebo and the basketball courts at the park were included on the doggie-don’t-go-there list.

Frank said he agreed in principle with the idea of a dog park, and said that if there is any interest, the idea should be developed before this summer.

The board spent far less time discussing changes to the draft Safe Zone Ordinance, which would effectively elevate town-owned recreational areas to the same status as school property when it comes to banning drug use or dealing.

“This makes so much sense to me,” said Finch, who praised former Selectman Rick Sykes for bringing the idea forward last year. “If we make the schools (safe zones), why not town property?”

Finch said the rules are tailored after rules adopted last year in Bridgton.

“I just wish we didn’t need to have something like this — that common sense would apply,” noted St. Pierre.

Finch said the board still needs to decide whether to seek voter approval on June 14, the day elections will be held, or on June 15 at the Town Meeting.

 

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