Bert Troughton’s pup, Leroy, runs at Chandler Brook free of a leash. A proposed law would mandate dogs be on leashes throughout the town. Chance Viles / The Forecaster

Opponents of a proposed leash law in North Yarmouth say that it unfairly “punishes” responsible dog owners by preventing them from letting their dogs run free in local parks where it is safe to do so.

Baston, Old Town House and Chandler Brook parks have large fields away from roads or cars, making them ideal spots for dog exercise, the opponents say.

“This would be a shame if this passed; these are important places to let dogs be dogs,” North Yarmouth dog trainer Liz Langham with Tree Frog Farm Dog Training told The Forecaster.

The leash law, which would apply to all parks in town, will be voted on at the annual town meeting April 24. It was crafted by the town’s Parks and Recreation Department and animal control officer after the town received a number of complaints and learned of incidents where dogs were out of control and scaring or bothering other park goers, according to Town Manager Rosemary Roy.

According to a draft of the law, the owners of dogs found continuously off-leash may be barred from North Yarmouth parks. Fines of between $50 and $250 would be levied for the first violation, and at least $100 to $500 for each subsequent offense.

Langham said she’s been bringing her dogs to run at the parks for upwards of 18 years.

“These are places I take both my dogs and my clients’ dogs,” she said.

While she supports owners using leashes, to make it mandatory is “extreme” and takes away the “magic” of the parks, she said. Responsible dog owners can control dogs off-leash, and in a “high distraction” environment it is an important mental exercise for their pets, she said.

New Gloucester resident Bert Troughton, a senior vice president for the nonprofit American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said she has been taking her dog Leroy to Chandler Brook Preserve for years, but if the leash law passes she doesn’t see going there anymore.

“I don’t have the space to let Leroy get his energy out, and if he was leashed I couldn’t keep up with him or give him the exercise he needs,” Troughton said.

Bert Troughton and her dog Leroy like the wide open space of North Yarmouth’s Chandler Brook Preserve. Troughton and other dog owners oppose a proposed town-wide leash law that would prevent Leroy from running free at the preserve and other town-owned parks. Residents will vote on the law at town meeting April 24. Story, page 3. Chance Viles / The Forecaster

Chandler Brook is valuable to dog owners in the area because places like New Gloucester do not have wide-open parks, and other parks comprising trails can cause problems between dogs.

“It is dog heaven here,” Troughton said of Chandler Brook. “Dogs do not want conflict and if they have problems will avoid the other dog in this large field. Trails really put them in close quarters.”

Select Board Chairperson Steve Berry said the proposed leash measure came after complaints from residents about dogs jumping on people and barking. He could not quantify the number of complaints. The animal control officer could be reached for comment.

“There have not been fights between dogs or moments of escalated danger to my knowledge,” Berry told The Forecaster.

The town’s parks are being used more this year, he said, including by “folks that haven’t always accessed our parks.”

“Not everyone is comfortable with dogs and for many, it is unsafe to have dogs leaping at them,” Berry said.

Troughton said some dogs behave poorly on leashes and parks like Chandler Brook are good practice for them.

“Leroy is so good off his leash but was kind of obnoxious when leashed up. I taught him how to be on a leash here, how to interact between being unleashed and leashed,”  she said.

North Yarmouth resident Audrey Lones said at a public hearing in February that the proposed law unfairly “punishes good dog owners.”

“There are wonderful people who can control their dogs, but we have the opposite as well,” Roy said. “We have too many dogs coming in with commercial businesses that we’ve had to ask to not come back. We’ve had individuals and their dogs are running up and jumping on people.”

Troughton and Langham, along with advocates who spoke at the public hearing, asked the Select  Board to consider setting off-leash hours or at least not be strict in enforcing the leash law.

“Royal River Park (in Yarmouth) does on- and off-leash hours, but never can they be off-leash on the paved pathway. I think that system works really well. I love to bring my client’s dog there,” Langham said.

Berry said the committee “discussed these ideas,” but is moving forward with having residents weigh in on a complete ban.

 

One of Leroy’s favorite things to do at the park aside from run is snake through the grass. Chance Viles / The Forecaster

 

 

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