Pelham officials consider tightening regs for loose dogs on trails

Staff Writer
Published: 8/2/2021 7:58:42 PM

PELHAM — Loose and unleashed dogs accosting people walking on hiking trails and in town conservation areas could prompt revisions to Pelham’s leash bylaw and spur efforts to have a full-time animal control officer.

Following two recent townwide meetings on the topic, in which residents recounted experiences of being run at or jumped on by loose dogs, Conservation Commission Chairman Dana McDonald said draft recommendations for modifying the leash bylaw are likely to be brought to the Select Board that could be considered at a future Town Meeting.

“The main outcome of it is there should be some changes to the bylaw,” MacDonald said of the two July sessions where people talked about the growing number of dog walkers using town land.

The current bylaw, adopted by Town Meeting in 1997, states “all dog owners keep their dogs under control at all times for the purpose of protecting people and animals from injury, protecting property from damage and preventing dog-related nuisances.” Specifically, it calls for dogs to be on leash or under voice command, with some exceptions. Another aspect of the bylaw is the required removal of dog waste when on public property.

The fines for allowing a dog to run loose for first through third offenses are $10, $15 and $20, and are $5, $10 and $15 for first through third violations of the dog waste provisions.

Pelham resident Chris Bain, who attended the meetings, said he supports removing the voice command language from the existing bylaw, educating visitors through pamphlets and adding new signs, and hiring a full-time dog officer.

MacDonald said the broad areas where people have been confronted include the Buffam Falls Conservation Area and the Buffam Brook Community Forest, though he noted that not all residents who spoke had negative interactions and some expressed appreciation that unleashed dogs should have a time and place to be out on public land.

In fact, the commission acknowledged that there have not been serious incidents reported recently.

“One of the conclusions is that complaints were mild compared to what we’ve heard in the past,” MacDonald said.

Still, he said there is evidence that a growing number of people are using Pelham lands for recreation, possibly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“From our perspective, there are a lot of people coming from out of town and we’ll need to have more restrictive leash laws,” MacDonald said.

Residents could be called on to help draft the revised language and then have a vote at Town Meeting, either this fall or next spring. The bylaw might increase the fines to $50 or $100 per offense.

Select Board Chairman Robert Agoglia said he will join an Aug. 12 meeting with the Conservation Commission to informally discuss what is being considered for the leash bylaw.

“Based on what happens at that meeting, the Select Board may put it on the agenda for its meeting on Aug. 18,” Agoglia said

Police Chief Gary Thomann has also informed town officials that a full-time animal control officer will likely be necessary to identify problems and enforce violations through warnings and tickets.

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