Dogs allowed on river trail in Canton

By DeeAnna Haney | May 16, 2014

CANTON — Dog owners may now legally walk their furry friends around the entire river trail at the Canton Recreation Park following an ordinance change by the board of aldermen last week.

The new ordinance allows dog walking on the entire paved walking trail and within six feet of the edge of the walking trail. Pet owners may only access the walking trail via the parking lots and other paved areas to avoid walking the dog through the grass.

Pets are still prohibited from being in the grass at the park, under the sheds or on the playground.

The board plans to explore purchasing waste bag receptacles at the park to make it easier for dog owners to clean up after their pet. However, the absence of bags in the receptacles will not be an excuse for pet owners to not clean up the dog's waste.

The previous ordinance was confusing for many and ignored by most people who came to the park with their dogs.

Before, there were signs that said "No dogs allowed on river trail," at the rec park but dogs were allowed on the trail past the bridge and the football stadium beyond the rec park. Despite the signs, many people walked their dogs anyway.

Alderman Zeb Smathers brought the issue to the recreation committee and then to a board meeting in April with intentions to bring clarity to the ordinance and enforcement of the rules.

"There was a lack of enforcement of those regulations. There were tons of dogs and there were dogs running without leashes and dogs on tables and dogs being walked and all sorts of things," Smathers said.

Because there was no enforcement, there was no fear of repercussions.

"There was no fine if the dog used the restroom, there was no fine if the dog wasn't on a leash. It was chaos out there, and that's not good for anybody," Smathers said.

That's why Smathers introduced the motion in April — to clarify where dogs can and cannot be walked and be stricter about enforcement. He also wanted to create some leeway for dog owners who actually follow the rules.

"Now there is at least something on the books to punish people who are not responsible," Smathers said.

Some for, some against

Fannie Dorlan, who owns a dance parlor in town, spoke out against the ordinance change during the meeting.

"I am against the dogs in the park. You go over to the park in the summertime when school is out and the teenagers and people have dogs on the table. I have actually seen the dogs urinate on the tables. I take my grandchild over there and I certainly don't want to eat after a dog has been on the table. I love dogs, but there's a time and a place for everything," she said.

Mayor Mike Ray pointed out that dogs have never been legally allowed in the park, let alone on the tables.

"Those [dogs] are not legal to be in the park on the tables with the old ordinance or the new ordinance either," Ray said. "They are not to be in the park proper. It's going to be a matter of enforcement."

Though he's had some calls from the public wanting clarification, Smathers said he's heard nothing but positive remarks about the ordinance change.

"In fact, it was the first time in my elected position someone has called me and said, 'Thanks for doing this,'" he said.

However, the mayor and other board members said they've heard nothing but complaints and concerns.

"I guess I've had probably a dozen and a half people contact me worried and bothered with the ordinance. They would have liked to have left it as it was," Ray said.

Many who contacted the mayor were concerned about who will be in charge of enforcing the ordinance.

"They are worried that one person under certain hours is not going to have the ability to do that," he said.

Others were concerned that dog owners won't adhere to the new ordinance.

"I've had no one in favor of the change. That's why I say if things don't work it can always be revisited. This is something we are looking at all the time. This was done in good faith for dog owners but this is something that needs to be monitored and looked at," Ray said.

Alderman Ralph Hamlett voted in favor of changing the ordinance previously before he realized there would be backlash from the public.

"I've only heard negative comments and I appreciate you sharing your concerns with me," said Alderman Ralph Hamlett to the audience. "I don't apologize for my vote, which was in the positive, but I only wish I had been more informed by you folks."

Hamlett reminded those who have expressed concern about pet waste disposal that the ordinance isn't necessarily permanent.

"Keep a watch and if the enforcement isn't there to let the board know and we can either tweak the ordinance or rescind it," he said.

Though Alderman Carole Edwards said she would rather not see any dogs in the park at all, she knows that's a rule that will never be completely followed. The reason she voted in favor of the change was to address the lack of enforcement.

"They haven't paid attention to the signs anyway. This ordinance gives us some leverage to enforce these issues, which we did not have before, because it doesn't matter. If we don't address it, people are not going to pay attention to it anyway," Edwards said.

She also promised to take a look at the ordinance again if it isn't effective.

"I'm like Ralph. We will see how this goes, we will see how enforcement goes and if people are more responsible, then if they are not, we will revisit it in that point in time and ban them altogether and try to enforce that," Edwards said.

In the end, the new ordinance was passed in a 3-1 vote, with Alderman Gail Mull voting against it.