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September 08. 2013 9:42PM

Manchester considers putting a shorter leash on dog walkers

MANCHESTER — Proposed changes to the city's dog fouling ordinance could make it easier for local police to enforce — while also making it easier for residents to put someone they have a beef with in deep doo-doo.

Next month, the Committee on Bills for Second Reading will take up changes to the dog fouling ordinance, after the Committee on Administration and Information Systems reviewed complaints in July from a city resident that Manchester's current dog fouling ordinance is virtually unenforceable because it effectively requires that a dog must be caught in the act.

Steven Stefanik of South Hall Street spoke during a public participation session and handed out photographs of fouled streets and lawns. He pointed to the language of the city ordinance as being a big part of the issue.

The ordinance as currently worded says a person in control of a dog in public must carry an "article or means" to clean up after a dog or to "remove and dispose" of dog feces. But the ordinance says there can be no enforcement of the regulation unless a violation "occurs in the presence of a law enforcement officer," which limits the ability of police or animal control officers to issue tickets after the deed is done.

"We looked at the ordinance, and there was no teeth to it," said Dale Robinson, the city's Ordinance Violations Bureau supervisor. "A police officer had to witness a dog doing what dogs do before they could take action."

Stefanik aired additional concerns with the ordinance at the meeting, saying he felt dog owners were using a "loophole" in the law to avoid disposing of their dog's waste.

"If you read the entire ordinance and the subsections under it, the idea of enforcement is to require dog owners to carry with them a means of disposal of dog feces and in particular, in item B of enforcement, this section shall be enforced only if the failure to appear without a means of removal or the failure to remove and dispose of said dog feces occurs in the presence of a law enforcement officer," said Stefanik. "From the photographs I provided, you can see that some of the dog owners are taking advantage of what I call a loophole in this ordinance, because they are in fact carrying something to dispose of the dog feces, but after they have complied with the ordinance they have ditched the bag either on the side of the street in the curb or in the bushes on property owners' properties."
"They comply with the removal of the feces and carry a bag with them, should they be stopped by a law officer," said Robinson. "As soon as no one is in sight, they ditch the feces with the bag and all."

The proposed changes to the ordinance include the addition of a new paragraph, addressing the method and removal of dog waste. It reads: "For the purposes of this subsection, the means of removal shall be any plastic bag, tool, implement, or other device carried and used for the purpose of picking up and containing feces, unexposed to said person and unexposed to the public. Disposal shall be accomplished by transporting such feces to a receptacle or other place suitable for the disposal of waste, trash or debris."

A section saying the ordinance can be enforced only if violations occur in the presence of a police officer has also been removed.

Robinson admits that residents could theoretically report that they witnessed someone they had a dispute with violating the ordinance, even if no violation has occurred.

"But that could happen with many of our ordinances," said Robinson. "It's still up to the responding officer to perform due diligence when investigating the report, to determine if a violation has occurred before any fines are issued."

A violation of the dog fouling ordinance carries a fine of $100 for the first offense, $200 for a second violation and a court appearance on the third offense.

The ordinance does not apply to any dog accompanying someone who, due to mental or physical impairments, is unable to comply with dog feces disposal requirements.

The Committee on Bills for Second Reading is scheduled to discuss the proposed changes on Oct. 1. The new language could become law before the end of the year.pfeely@unionleader.com


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