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Dog owner: Good fences make for good masters

Sunday News Correspondent

September 02. 2017 11:59PM

Marc Burrell of Laconia took this selfie with his pit bull Titan. Burrell wants city regulations to require dog owners to have a physical fence or keep their pets tethered whenever they're unattended on their property. (Bea Lewis/Sunday News Correspondent)

LACONIA - Invisible fences won't be enough in Laconia for dog owners if a proposed new city ordinance is adopted. Dog owners will need to either set posts and cross rails, or tether Fido if they want to leave him unattended.

The issue came to the forefront in early July after Marc Burrell, a resident of Warren Street, spoke at a City Council meeting.

He told the council that while walking his leashed dog, he passed a property equipped with an invisible fence, which work by delivering a warning sound, followed by an electric shock via a transmitter collar when a dog crosses the boundary line. The unrestrained dog ran through the electric fence and attacked his dog.

Burrell said he owns an American Staffordshire terrier, more commonly known as a pit bull, and told councilors that he was concerned that if his dog defended itself, it would only add to the misconceptions about the breed.

"Nine times out of 10 if something happens, the pit bull is going to get the blame," Burrell said.

Current city ordinance requires dogs either be leashed or "within an enclosure" whenever the animal is not on the property of the owner.

Stressing that any proposed language was not "cast in stone," City Manager Scott Myers said based on the recommendations of the Council's Government Operation and Ordinance Committee the framework being suggested is a two-pronged approach.

If owners are not physically outside with their dog on their own property, the animal needs to be restrained via hardscape, whether fenced in or tethered.

The first violation would subject the dog owner to a fine. If the dog leaves the yard again, the owner would be required to tie up the dog or restrain it with a physical fence in the future.

When the council was discussing the issue, a comment by Laconia Police Lt. Michael Finogle, a former K-9 handler, suggested that even a substantial fence is no deterrent to a determined dog, noting he's witnessed dogs hurdle a 6-foot-tall fence.

Jodie Leclerc of Laconia, who was walking her boyfriend's black Labrador-pit bull mix on the WOW recreational trail in the city said she didn't have a problem with the proposed ordinance.

"In a busy residential area, it is a good idea to make sure your dog is secured. And it has a lot to do with your dog's attitude," she said.

Gesturing toward Fordy, her boyfriend's dog, she said he is fond of people but not always enthusiastic about other dogs. When outside he is either leashed, or tethered when he is at home.

Leclerc, who has worked for Homeward Bound Professional Animal Care based in Gilford for the past two years, said she visits clients' homes throughout the Lakes Region to walk their dogs.

"It's our responsibility to keep the dog safe and secured," she said, explaining that even when pet owners ask that their dogs be allowed to romp free, they never unleash them.

"It's all about the safety of the dog and people," she said.

Some say the issue points to the need for a dog park, a fenced area where people could go and safely exercise their dog and allow them to interact with their counterparts and give owners a chance to socialize.

"It would be nice to have more dog-friendly places to go," Leclerc said.

Josie Nevers of Laconia, who was out walking her pug, Lily, said while her dog adores people, as she has aged she has shown some signs that she might not be so fond of other dogs.

"You never really know what a dog's attitude is going to be, so we took it upon ourselves to put in a fence and make a safe environment," she said.

"It's really up to the owners to be responsible."

Mitchell Municipal Group, which serves as Laconia's legal counsel, will be asked to draft language for a new ordinance that will then come back before the full council for a first reading. If the council endorses the measure, it will be referred to a public hearing. After hearing residents' comments, the council could approve a second reading and vote on the ordinance in the same meeting.

Burrell, 57, said he doesn't think it's unreasonable to require dog owners to be responsible for their pets. He says he should be able to walk Titan without having to be hypervigilant about loose dogs looking to mix it up with his 57-pound dog. "That's my mission to change that. I'm starting small with the city of Laconia but would like to see it become a blanket policy statewide," he said.

Animals Laconia Local and County Government

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