WINSLOW — A new town dog ordinance is headed toward passage after the Town Council gave its initial approval to the proposal Tuesday night.

Police Chief Shawn O’Leary worked on the ordinance with Town Manager Michael Heavener after a dog attack on Aug. 30 that injured a woman and killed her Boston terrier.

“After (that incident), I took a look at the ordinance and you could tell it was kind of outdated, and it needed to be updated,” O’Leary told the council at its monthly meeting Tuesday.

O’Leary said he and the town’s animal control officer, Chris Martinez, looked at other towns’ ordinances concerning dangerous dogs. He used those and the state statute as a base for the proposed ordinance.

According to the state, a dangerous dog is one that bites a person or another animal without provocation, or a dog that causes people or animals to fear “imminent bodily injury.” A dog is declared dangerous by a court of law.

The Maine Municipal Association does not keep track of the number of towns that have dangerous-dog ordinances. Eric Conrad, director of communications for the association, said few Maine communities have explored passing such ordinances.

“Dangerous dogs and animals have been in the news off and on, both nationally and here in Maine,” Conrad said in an emailed statement. “When these concerns come up, people go to their local officials and look for something to be done.”

The current ordinance says no one can keep a noisy or vicious dog that disturbs people’s “peace and quiet,” and the police chief can require owners of such dogs to keep them quiet, or the animals can be removed or euthanized. The minimum fine is $5 and the maximum is $20.

Under the proposed ordinance, the minimum fine would be $500 and the maximum would be $1,000. At the meeting, O’Leary said the change was intended to show that the police are serious about the issue.

The proposed ordinance would also require owners of a dangerous dog to have at least $300,000 in liability insurance. When questioned by Councilor Jerry Quirion about where the figure came from, O’Leary said he looked at ordinances in other towns, including Waterville, Hallowell and Oakland, and found that Monmouth and Livermore both require owners of dangerous dogs to have that level of liability insurance.

The ordinance also would require those who move to Winslow with a dangerous dog to notify the animal control officer. Quirion asked how police would know if that didn’t happen.

O’Leary said dog owners are supposed to register their dogs in the towns they live in anyway, and when they do that, they would be informed of the rules governing dangerous dogs, if the ordinance passes. Those who ignored the ordinance could be fined.

“Also, by state law, every veterinarian is supposed to send rabies vaccination records to the town,” Martinez said.

The town can then check these records against its records of registered dogs.

But Martinez acknowledged that there will always be undocumented dogs out there.

“There’s a lot of undocumented animals within the towns of Winslow and Waterville, and the state,” he said. “We have residents who don’t follow the law, obviously.”

Councilor Ken Fletcher noted that a dog is declared dangerous through a court process, so there would be a court record at the state level as well.

“I would also like to add that if the dog bites again after being declared dangerous, the owner commits a class D crime,” Martinez said.

Councilor Raymond Caron asked how many dangerous dogs are in Winslow and Martinez said there is one that the town knows of.

The council voted unanimously to approve the first reading of the ordinance, which will require passage of a second reading before it goes into effect.

 


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