by Lauren Masellas, Sanford Animal Control Officer
Not long ago, we discussed the 2022 call statistics involving loose dogs. This has become the number one complaint for Animal Control in recent years, even beating out stray cat calls, which is something! So naturally, I will be focusing a lot of attention on loose dogs in the coming year. You have been warned! 😉
Often times when I talk to both owners and complainants about this issue, there seems to be some confusion over the laws governing this problem…and yes, it is a problem! A loose dog is often a frightened, confused dog which makes their behavior unpredictable no matter how sweet natured they may be at home. Loose dogs are responsible for almost all of our dog fight complaints, the majority of dog bite complaints and a host of other hazards. But I digress…let’s try to unravel the laws.
We actually have both a State of Maine law, 7;3911 entitled “Dogs at Large” and a City Ordinance in Ecode360, commonly referred to as “The Leash Law”.
The state law covers any dog off the premises of its owner. It is very general: “It is unlawful for any dog, licensed or unlicensed, to be at large, except when used for hunting.” Yup, that’s it. What the heck does that even mean you ask? The state defines “at large” as “off the premises of the owner and not under the control of any person whose personal presence and attention would reasonably control the conduct of the animal.” Helpful? This is why cities and towns have leash laws! Our leash law further clarifies that if a dog is off the owner’s property, it must be secured by a leash of NOT more than 8 feet. That’s right, the ever popular 20 +/- foot long retractable leash, if allowed to spool out more than 8 feet, is a violation. There are no exceptions for “voice control,” “obedience trained,” “don’t worry, he’s friendly,” “dogs need to run” or “hiking/swimming” dogs. Nor are there areas in town, outside the designated dog park, where this ordinance does not apply. This means our local parks, cemeteries (most of which do not allow dogs at all), trail systems, athletic fields, etc. all require all dogs be leashed at all times!
It is particularly concerning how many serious incidents occur on our public trails. Imagine your family taking a peaceful stroll through the woods when a strange dog, no owner in sight, comes bounding up to you. It does not matter the intention of the dog, friendly or otherwise, that can be a terrifying moment, especially if you have small children or a reactive dog with you. Or you decide to give your dog “just a few minutes” off leash because “no one is around” and they are a really good dog! Next thing you know, that really good dog has disappeared into the undergrowth after who knows what. Eventually he may find his way home, hopefully without having to cross a busy street! Panic time for you, though.
As unfair as these laws and ordinances are often touted to be by many dog owners, they are not random. Too many incidents of uncontrolled dogs and/or irresponsible people creating problems led to having to strengthen these laws. They have become necessary for the safety of the majority and the peaceful enjoyment of our public lands by all. Please respect them.