Canine Consideration

Posted March 17, 2010, at 5:08 p.m.

A Bangor committee has reached a common-sense compromise to require dogs to be leashed in some, but not all, of the city’s open spaces. Dividing the largest parcel — the City Forest — into areas where canines can roam freely and where they must be tethered is a reasonable way to accommodate the diverse uses of the area.

The city’s government operations committee gave its approval to a plan to designate about half of the City Forest and all of Cascade Park and Brown Woods as areas where leashes would be required. Dogs without leashes would continue to be allowed in other city-owned wooded areas including Prentiss Woods and Essex Woods.

There is currently no leash law in Bangor, but the city is governed by state statute that says dogs must be controlled by owners, either with a leash or by voice command.

Opponents of the expanded leash law are right that it will be difficult to enforce and that, for the most part, dog owners will have to police themselves. They are wrong, however, when they say that dog owners are already adequately policing themselves. Any frequent visitor to the City Forest, dog owner or non, can attest to the number of dogs roaming — often at full speed — far beyond the control of their owners. Assurances that a dog is friendly when it is charging at a family 50 feet out of reach of its owner are meaningless.

At the same time, those who detest dogs should remain in the parts of the forest where a leash is required, where presumably there will be fewer dogs if the proposed change is approved. If they chose to run, walk or bike in the areas where dogs can run free, they should refrain from lectures about keeping dogs on a leash.

At a time when too few people — and their increasingly overweight canine companions — get adequate exercise, impediments to outdoor recreation should be lowered, not raised. Requiring dogs to be leashed in some areas so they don’t scare off young families out for a walk while allowing them to run free in others appears to meet that test. The policy should be reviewed in a year or so to see if it is working as intended.

Like any multiuse area, the people who use the city’s open spaces for various activities must learn to live with one another. Walkers, for example, should try to avoid cross-country ski trails in the winter. But skiers shouldn’t get too bent out of shape if there are a few footprints in their trail.

Those who want to let their dogs run will have a place for that, while those who want to be free from pouncing and chasing canines will have a place, too.

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