Concord dog owners may be asked to follow a few more rules at public parks, cemeteries and playgrounds this year.
The town’s Recreation Commission and Cemetery Committee are jointly proposing several changes to the dog bylaw to address issues of safety and cleanliness around town, officials said. Owners would be required to clean up after their pets, dogs would no longer be allowed in cemeteries, and pets would have to be on a leash at Emerson Field during some weekday daytime hours in the summer, for example.
“Most of it, we feel, is common sense,’’ said Susanne Jarnryd, chairwoman of the Recreation Commission. “It’s what the vast majority of dog owners are doing anyway. We want to encourage people to be responsible. However, we need to have something on the books so if people aren’t being responsible, we can deal with it.’’
A public information session slated for last week to discuss the changes was postponed by bad weather, and has been rescheduled for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the multipurpose room at the Hunt Gymnasium, 90 Stow St.
The proposed revisions will go before Town Meeting for a vote in May.
While the changes would put more restrictions on where and when dogs can run freely, owners will still have plenty of opportunities to walk with their pets off leash, Jarnryd said.
“We’re trying to keep our kids safe, our parks clean and still give dog owners a place to let them off leash,’’ she said. “We know other towns have more restrictive bylaws but we felt this was a good compromise.’’
Jarnryd said the commission put the bylaw together with input from dog owners and several town departments, such as public works, natural resources and the town manager’s office, after the Cemetery Committee raised concerns about dog waste.
“As we started to look into the dog bylaws in a larger sense, we realized there are some areas that aren’t really covered,’’ she said. “We decided to take a look at the whole thing and see where the holes were.’’
Without rules on the books, she said, standards can’t be enforced. For example, there is nothing in the current bylaw about requiring owners to pick up waste from their dogs.
Jarnryd said town officials are holding the informational meeting to hear from residents.
“I know a lot of people want to have their voices heard and we want to hear their suggestions,’’ she said. “There will be a lot of people who have issues with one piece or another. Some like to walk their dogs in the cemetery, or take them off leash at their child’s baseball game. But overall, I’ve heard a lot of support among dog owners for this.’’
The proposed changes would require owners to remove and dispose of dog waste from areas other than their own property; require that a dog be “held firmly on a leash or under effective and direct voice control’’ of its owner or keeper; and prohibit dogs from cemeteries and children’s playgrounds.
Also, dogs would have to be on a leash at Emerson Field from late June to late August between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. while the town summer camp takes place, and at all times while on a public sidewalk or at public gatherings such as parades, fairs or athletic events.
‘We’re trying to keep our kids safe, our parks clean and still give dog owners a place to let them off leash.’SUSANNE JARNRYD, Recreation Commission chairwoman
In addition, people walking three or more dogs on public ways, trails or other town-owned property would have to have all of the dogs leashed.
Concord resident Bill Watts walks his Labradoodle, Augie, on a regular basis at Emerson Field. He said most owners respect one another and the property, but he understands why the bylaw may be changed.
“For the most part, they make common sense,’’ he said. “No one wants to visit a gravesite and see dog waste all over the place. There are plenty of other places to walk your dog.’’
He also thinks it’s a good idea to require those with three dogs or more, typically professional dog walkers, to have them on leashes at all times.
“Some of them come in and they can’t watch the dogs all the time,’’ he said. “Other people end up having to pick up after them.’’
Watts said he appreciates that Concord residents can walk their dogs off leash, because many towns don’t allow it at all.
“It’s a privilege, it’s not a right, and we all know we don’t want to lose that,’’ Watts said.
But resident Judy Bernard, who runs a dog training business in town, said she thinks the proposal may have a tough time passing as written.
She disagrees with the cemetery ban, for example, because she doesn’t think the existing leash requirement at cemeteries has been enforced.
“If they aren’t going to enforce it,’’ Bernard said, “putting a more stringent law on the books isn’t going to do any good.’’
She also thinks the leash requirement for three dogs, especially on town trails, is too restrictive.
Instead of having more rules, she said, dog owners need to be better educated.
“When your dog is in public, you need to pay attention to what they’re doing,’’ she said, “so when it goes to the bathroom, you can see it and pick it up.’’
She said dog owners also need to be aware of how their pet behaves toward other dogs.
Town Clerk Anita Tekle said three citations were issued last year under the dog bylaw, all for pets not under the control of their owner. She said the fine for a bylaw violation is $25 for the first offense; $50 for second offense, and $100 for each subsequent offense. The fees would not change under the revised bylaw.
For more information about the proposed changes, visit the town’s website, www.concordma.gov, and click on “Town Meeting Info.’’Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.