August 22, 2014

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Selectboard adopts changes to dog control ordinance

Oct. 20, 2011

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

The Williston Selectboard approved changes to the town’s dog control ordinance in regards to dog waste disposal. Courtesy dog litterbags are available at various spots in town, including the Williston Bike Path (above). (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

Summer may be over, but Monday was a dog day at the Williston Selectboard meeting.

Following a hearing in which public comments were heard on proposed amendments to the town’s dog control ordinance, the Selectboard adopted three substantive changes to the ordinance — all concerning the issue of dog waste.

As part of the amendments, dog owners will be required to have some form of bag or waste scooping device in their possession when walking their dog. They will also be responsible for removing their pets’ waste from public property and private property — other than their own — and will be required to properly dispose of such waste.

The previous version of the ordinance made no reference to dog waste.

A fourth change that was considered by the Selectboard but ultimately not included in the amendments would have required dog owners to promptly scoop dog waste from their property.

“I still like the idea of asking people to pick up (dog waste) on their own property,” Selectboard member Debbie Ingram said.

Ingram cited the potential for waste on private property to pollute public lands or waters due to stormwater runoff, and suggested that the additional amendment would be a beneficial tool for the town in “the extreme, worst-case scenario.”

Selectboard member Jeff Fehrs disagreed, raising the question of whether it would be wise for the town to impose an ordinance that would affect private property rights.

“I’m very hesitant to delve into an ordinance that requires a property owner to do something on their own property,” Fehrs said. “I just have a conceptual issue with that. I’m nowhere near ready to cross that private property boundary, at least at this point.”

Williston resident Shelley Palmer told the Observer on Tuesday that a distinction should be made in the ordinance regarding what constitutes public property and that an exception should be carved out for places not frequented by people, such as wooded areas. Palmer also objected to the abandoned proposal regarding private property.

“I don’t think that the town (should have) any peculiar ability to tell people what to do on their own private property,” Palmer said. “The question is: Are we increasing the quality of life or are we just going into regulatory insanity?”

Margie Jacobs, a Williston resident who attended the public hearing, asked how the new additions to the dog control ordinance will be enforced.

“Most of our ordinances are ultimately enforced by the police department,” replied Rick McGuire, town manager. “In order for them to enforce it, they would have to receive reports of a chronic offender and they would have to have some sort of evidence tying the person to the dog or would have to witness it themselves. One thing the police department can do is if they’re aware of a chronic offender, they can speak to the owner and, quite often, that might be enough.”

Other articles of the dog control ordinance that remain unchanged include the requirement of a tagged dog collar and the prohibition of unleashed dogs running at large. The civil penalty for a first offense ordinance violation is $50.

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