City Council turns tail

 Electric dog fence issue dies not with a bark, but with a whimper


LACONIA — A proposal to tighten the city's dog-control law was put to sleep by the City Council on Tuesday night.

City attorneys, working at $200 an hour, drew up the revision at the request of a council subcommittee based on a complaint from Marc Burrell, who said a dog charged out from behind an invisible electric fence to attack him and his pit bull as they walked past.

In a unanimous vote, the council decided Tuesday to let stand the current ordinance, which prohibits dogs from roaming free and causing a nuisance. The revision would have required that people be with their dog if the animal was not behind a physical fence or on a tether.

In an earlier meeting, a number of people complained that dog laws shouldn't be changed based on a single complaint and that their electric fences work well to keep dogs from escaping.

Electric fences generally feature a wire buried on the perimeter of a yard. It's connected to a power source and if a dog gets too close to the boundary, there is a beep. If the dog goes farther, it will get a shock from its collar, dissuading it from crossing the line.

Burrell said his experience is that a dog, if excited, will ignore the shock and leave the property. Fence proponents say that with the proper training and collar adjustment, dogs learn not to leave.

Statistics compiled by the police department show about two dozen dog bites reported this year. The bites often occurred when dogs were in their own yards or on a leash.

Councilor Robert Hamel said he understands that Burrell went through a scary situation when the dog charged him, but that this appears to be an isolated case.

“But from what I see of the dog bites, most of them are from people not using their head,” he said.

“When you reach into a car to pat a dog, you're going to get bit. Somebody is walking a dog on a leash and you walk by and pat him without the owner's permission, you can get bit. There was a veterinarian that got bit. A fireman got bit. An owner got bit.

“I don't see where the dogs running off the property caused a lot of problems to change this. I think the ordinance that we have now covers pretty much covers everything.”

He encouraged people to report nuisance dogs and dog bites to the police and that existing law is sufficient to handle such problems.

For his part, Burrell thinks dogs charging out from electric fences are a problem. It's hard to know how often this happens as people don't necessarily report it, he said.

After the meeting, Newbold Le Roy, who has an electric fence, spoke to Burrell in the lobby outside the council chambers.

“I'm sympathetic to your problem,” Le Roy told Burrell.

Le Roy told him that owners need to be responsible for controlling their dogs, and if they don't, they are responsible for the dog's actions and subject to fines.

“It's not about the owner being hurt,” Burrell responded. “It's about the person walking down the road. The little child walking down the road and having somebody's dog come off their property to attack that person.”

Le Roy said he does not see such problems.

“In our neighborhood, we have 10 invisible fences and we have dogs, and kids and people walking up and down all the time,” Le Roy said.

Burrell said there is a growing body of evidence that invisible fences are not effective. He said he was “highly disappointed” at the council's stance, especially after the council subcommittee authorized city attorneys to draw up a revised ordinance for council consideration.

“I think this council is two-faced because twice now I've come before them about issues and they say one thing and then do another,” Burrell said.

“Maybe I should run for council and change a few things. I supply irrefutable evidence that invisible fences don't work. The woman whose dog attacked me admitted that the dog came off her property. There is proof that this has happened before in the past, and they choose to do nothing to change it.

“The state law says the council has the right to take preventative measures and they are not doing that, so that just tells me the City Council doesn't care about the people that it represents.”