Yarmouth residents Debbie Farmer, left, and Michelle Oliver walk their grandchildren at Royal River Park Tuesday morning. Oliver owns a dog and always keeps it leashed at the park, but both women the use leashes should be left up to dog owners, assuming the owner can control their dog. Chance Viles / The Forecaster

A public hearing will be held next week on a proposed leash rule for dogs in Royal River Park in Yarmouth along with a town-wide limit on the number of dogs being walked per person to three.

Yarmouth Animal Control Officer Bob Silcott and Police Chief Daniel Gallant proposed the changes to the Town Council last week after hearing complaints about dogs running up to people and jumping on them at the park and about waste not being picked up. They seek the three dog per person rule because they have also received complaints about large numbers of dogs being walked with little control, they told the council.

Violations of the proposed policies would carry fines of $50-$100.

Silcott did not return Forecaster requests for further details after the Sept. 2 council meeting about the number of complaints related to unruly dogs at the park or waste left behind.

The current ordinance allows dogs to be off-leash in public unless specified.

“We really don’t have a place in town that is leash-only aside from a small stretch of a trail,” Silcott said at the meeting. “There is not a place someone can go and be assured they won’t run into off-leash dogs.”

Calling Royal River Park “a gem,” Silcott said at the meeting that it is often used by people of all ages as a shortcut to Bridge and East Elm streets

The amount of foot traffic that goes through there is impressive really – kids, scooters, skateboards, bicycles. A dog off-leash is concerning,  particularly if you are a single mom by yourself pushing your buggy and a dog comes up,” Silcott said.

Resident Joe Garland, whose property abuts the Frank Knight Forest on East Main Street, told the council he would like to see restrictions on off-leash dogs and not just for Royal River Park.

“The problems we see with our forest are the issues the officer and chief are trying to address. My concern is we are going to make these changes to make things better, and all we will do is relocate these challenges from a few parks into another one like Frank Knight Forest. Unleashed dogs get on other people’s property and chase animals,” Garland said. 

“We need to educate, communicate and then we need to inspect what we expect,” Garland said.

Councilors spoke in favor of the proposed ordinance changes and expanding the scope of them as well.

“(Dogs) need places to run off-leash, too. We love them and want them to be happy,” Chairperson April Humphrey said. “But I also had the experience of a child who had anxiety when she was young, and there was nowhere in town that felt safe going for a walk. I support this and would be open to revisiting leashes in other places.”

Councilor David Craig, backed by councilors Tim Shannon and Heather Abbott, said they’d like to see leashes mandatory everywhere in town, with special designation needed for off-leash areas, not vice versa.

Dogs should be on a leash unless there is a specific place for them to not be on a leash. I don’t care if your dog is friendly because my allergies don’t care,” Abbot said.

The new ordinance would also include the three dog rule to avoid any issues where a dog handler may not have control over a large number of dogs. In Cumberland, where Silcott also works as an animal control officer, that rule is in place, he said. He hasn’t summonsed anyone for violating it there, he said, opting instead to give warnings and educate dog walkers.

“The catalyst for that was in Cumberland a person had a dog walking business and it was a clown car scenario. Ten to 15 dogs would come out, and it’d create chaos,” Silcott said. ” It was determined three was a good number. That may not always be the case, but it gives us a ground floor.”

Councilors, anticipating heavy public interest, hope to hear from residents in a public comment hearing scheduled for Sept. 16.

Comments are not available on this story.