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Town to impose 10-day confinement of all dogs

Leash law in the works

by Tom Chillemi

Several Urbanna residents called for a leash law at Monday’s town council meeting. And, town residents will see how a leash law could work during a 10-day dog confinement period in November.

The owner of a wandering dog has no way of knowing what damage it might cause, Diane Gravatt of Virginia Street told council. “It’s time to put some teeth into our law.”

Gravatt added that dog owners need to “be responsible.”

Bob Henkel of Cross Street said two or three dogs go through his yard nearly every day, and some loose dogs “do their business” on his property. He said some people walking dogs allow them to mess in his yard without cleaning it up. “Owners should be required to clean up any mess.”

Under the town’s current dog law, owners are responsible for the behavior of their dogs. Prohibited behaviors include excessive barking, charging at persons in a frightening manner, biting, upsetting garbage cans, and “habitually” using property other than its own to “do its business.” Enforcement is difficult and requires that a written complaint be made. Neighbors have been reluctant to complain, and the offending dog and owner must be identified.

The current law does provide that “the mayor may proclaim that all dogs within the town be confined to the homes or lots of their owners for 10 days.” Dogs could be walked on a leash or “under immediate control” during the confinement period.

Mayor Beatrice Taylor said the confinement period will start on November 9 and continue through November 18. It will be advertised in the Sentinel in two upcoming issues. “This is not a solution, but a beginning,” she said.

Gary Thimsen said he had to slam on his brakes recently to avoid hitting a dog that ran into the street. Owners who let dogs run “have no respect for animals, no respect for the citizens of town, and no self-respect,” he said.

An unidentified resident said she uses a loud aerosol boat horn to scare off dogs that threaten her or her cats.

Bob Calves of Park Street said he favors a leash law. He noted that dogs from out of town could be picked up and confined if the town had a leash law.

Only Steve Hollberg spoke against a leash law. He said there is a “venue for taking care of problems.” Hollberg said he leaves his dog out at night “as a check against all things that come out of (Perkins) Creek.”

Hollberg added, “I’m not sure what the town council could do that would be more constructive than what is in place.”

Town Administrator Lewis Filling said the current law is hard to enforce “because it is so poorly written.” He said a clear, well-written leash law would be easier to enforce.

Such a law would allow loose dogs to be picked up in Urbanna, Filling said.

Filling noted that West Point has a leash law with a $350 fine.

Council member Janet Smith asked, “Who will enforce the current code or any others we may impose?” Enforcing a leash law “is a complicated and political issue,” she said.

Council discussed talking with the county administrator about using county animal control officers to enforce Urbanna’s dog laws. “We need to address what the animal control officer can do for us,” said council member Bill Thrift. Council member Lee Chewning agreed.

Council member Rich Donoff said trying to use the existing dog law is a “band-aid” approach, and agreed it’s time for a leash law. “We’re spinning in circles.”

Donoff added that most localities have a leash law. “We need to come up with an entirely new law.”

Filling was directed to bring proposed leash law language to council’s work session on Friday, November 13, at 4 p.m. The public is invited to attend the session.

posted 10.21.2009

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