BROOKLIN — When is a barking dog a “nuisance” and when is it just being a dog?
This is one question residents have about a proposed dog ordinance that voters are being asked to consider at the annual Town Meeting on Saturday, May 15, at the Brooklin School.
But first, there will be a public hearing about the proposed ordinance on Thursday, April 15, at 6 p.m. in the school gym.
The intent is in part to give Brooklin’s animal control officer, Carol Ann Cutler, some teeth, so to speak, in managing not so much disobedient dogs but rather unruly owners.
“Over the past two years, we’ve had several ongoing cases where I’m going to come right out and say it, we’ve had belligerent dog owners who haven’t been mindful or respectful of their neighbors,” said Selectman Bill Cohen. “When Carol Ann tries to do something, without an ordinance, we’ve discovered she really can’t do anything.”
Cutler said she has been Brooklin’s animal control officer for the past eight or nine years.
“This is a reasonable thing to present to the town,” Cutler said. “What this is meant for is if a dog is left home all day alone or tied out all day, which is also against the law, that we have some recourse to do something.”
“It’s meant for nuisance dogs,” she said. “This doesn’t mean the UPS guy comes and drops something off and the dog barks.”
“Nuisance barking would be prolonged barking,” the animal control officer said.
How long must a dog bark before it’s considered a nuisance?
“You really can’t quantify that,” said Cutler. A dog owner herself and the owner of a kennel, Cutler said if her dogs bark excessively for one or two minutes, she considers that too much barking. “It’s a very short period of time.”
The proposed ordinance states that its purpose is to control and regulate barking dogs, dogs running at large, dangerous dogs as well as the safe operation of the dog park (located at a former ballfield on the Bay Road).
Brooklin resident and dog owner Peter Collins, who likes to use the dog park, has concerns about the ordinance, particularly enforcement of the dog park hours and the proposed consequences of violating the hours.
The ballfield operates as a dog park for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon.
“It’s never been clear to me why the town chose those restrictive hours, and in fact the Select Board has told me they are not in favor of imposing any time-based restrictions,” Collins said. “The other problem is that those hours ignore times dog owners have been regularly using the park, week after week, for years. So, of course, dog owners ignore the posted hours.”
Collins and his dog visit the park usually every other day. They are usually alone.
“The only non-dog activity I’ve ever been aware of is someone who wanted to practice throwing his javelin,” he said.
Collins cited the proposed ordinance, which states it would establish penalties for violating dog park hours including a fine of an unspecified amount for each offense. If the fine isn’t paid within 10 days, “the town ‘shall’ confiscate the pet and the owner is summoned to district court. The ‘confiscation’ is not optional; it is mandatory under the stated circumstances.”
The proposal also cites a potential $1,000 fine.
“There’s an incredible amount of misinformation,” Cohen said. “There’s no $1,000 fine. What they’ve done is confused a state of Maine law that says a court may charge up to $1,000.”
Cohen said the local ordinance states a fee schedule will be established by the selectmen. In other cases, fines have ranged between $25 and $150.
“It’s important that people read the ordinance carefully,” Cohen said.
A copy of the proposed ordinance is available at brooklinmaine.com.
Cohen said the town did have an incident in which someone wanting to use the ballfield was literally chased off.
“We had a case where an individual decided he was going to use the dog park whenever he wanted,” said Cohen. Another resident trying to use the park for other recreational uses was chased off, he said.
If dogs are removed from Brooklin, they would go to the Small Animal Clinic in Ellsworth. That’s Dr. Alan Toothaker’s practice.
“The taking of an animal is only intended as a last resort,” Cohen said. “That’s the very last thing that would ever happen.”
“We reviewed with Carol Ann the process she has to go through before she can take a dog,” said Cohen. “There’s a whole series of written communications she must go through before she can take a dog.”
If a dog is taken, dog owners would be able to reclaim the animal by “meeting whatever conditions the animal control officer put on the specific case,” Cohen said.
“We had a case where an individual or a family left a dog penned up outside and the dog barked for at least six hours, if not longer,” said Cohen. “The ACO could do nothing. Meanwhile, the neighbors were calling our animal control officer and complaining.”
“All we’re trying to do is lower the temperature on volatile situations,” Cohen said.
The hearing on April 15 is not a debate, the selectman said. There is a meeting with Consolidated Communications officials about internet service at 6:30 p.m., which allots 30 minutes for comments on the dog ordinance.
“It’s not a debate,” Cohen said. “We’re taking comments. If the allotted time goes long, we will either continue after the internet presentation or we’ll come back.”