City Council decides dogs must be leashed

NEW ULM — Dogs must be leashed in public spaces. The City Council unanimously approved an amended ordinance requiring leashes for dogs through New Ulm, excluding private property and designated parks.

Since 2004, the law has required animals be on a leash only while on the recreational trail. Anywhere else in the city the animals have only needed to be “under the direct control of an accompanying person.”

Last June, the Happy Tails Dog Park Committee made a recommendation to reinstate the leash requirement in city parks with the exception of the Dog Park for safety purposes. This led to several discussions among the council about the need for a leash law.

City Attorney Roger Hippert also raised concerns about defining and prosecuting the law. Hippert said the language stating an animal must be under the direct control of an accompanying person was vague and open to interpretation. “Direct control” could mean everything from a leash to voice command. Hippert is currently involved with recent incidents and cases regarding dogs running at large and injuring other animals or people.

Prior to the meeting a survey was released by the Park and Recreation department to gauge public opinion. The survey was taken by 524 people and 78 percent thought leashes should be required in parks and 77 percent thought leashes should be required on all public property including streets and sidewalks. About 55 percent thought leashes should not be required on private property.

Early on the council favored amending the law to enforce leashes, but also recommended additional leash free zones be added to the city.

Park and Rec Department Director Tom Schmitz said there were park spaces available that could serve as non-leash parks.

Councilor Lisa Fischer was willing to support a leash law for public spaces, if there were additional spaces allowed for dogs to run off leash. Fischer was against requiring leashes on private property.

The council agreed enforcing a leash law on private property was not feasible. Council President Charlie Schmitz said there was no way to adequately enforce private property leash laws and attempts to do so would be a mess for the city.

Animal Control Officer Corporal Keith Anderson spoke during the meeting. He provided the council with a list of dog bite incidents for 2015, 2016 and 2017. In three years there were 35 dog bite reports. Of those 35 incidents, 14 occurred with dogs unleashed. It was noted by the council that most of the dog bites occurred on private property inside a residence.

Anderson was in favor of a leash ordinance for public spaces but supported the idea of creating designated leash-free parks. Anderson shared the opinion that the direct control language in the ordinance was not sufficient.

“I’ve trained several dogs in my lifetime and I can tell you there isn’t a single dog that I’ve dealt with that is 100 percent obedient when called,” Anderson said. “We have to be careful about that.”

Deb Christiansen of Pups Playland addressed the council. She said most of the bites were coming from private property dogs, not animals being walked in public. She was concerned a leash law unfairly punished those walking dogs in public.

Councilor Larry Mack said a leash law was needed for the city because having dogs run through city parks was not an option. He has received calls from people who reported being attacked in the park by off-leash dogs. Mack agreed that private property regulations were unlikely to work, but was willing to designate leash-free parks at a later date.

Mack made a motion to amend the code requiring dogs and cats to be leashed on any public property including streets and right-of-ways, other than the current dog park and parks designated by Park and Rec.

Fischer asked a designated number of leash-free parks be added in the motion. She suggested three additional parks. This was added to the motion. Hippert said the Parks Department could supply the names of the designated parks before the first reading of the ordinance and before the law went into effect.

The council unanimously passed this motion. In addition they chose not to set a mandatory leash length. Originally it was suggested a six-foot leash law be put in place, but the council was uncertain this could be enforced.

The first reading of the leash law amendment will be at future meeting.

In other news, a grant from the Minnesota Historical Society was approved by the council. The grant is in the amount of $60,000 and is for assessment of the Hermann Monument base. The city is responsible for a $5,200 match associated with volunteers an in-kind service costs. The study is to review the structural stability of the base and its components.

Building Official Ellwood Zabel said the statue had to be closed last year due to falling debris. It is hoped the study will give a working plan on how to mitigate the known moisture and deterioration problem.

Councilor Dave Christian said this assessment was needed before the city applied for further grants to make repairs to the monument. With this approval the city can send out requests for proposals for the assessment.

Fire Chief Paul Macho was authorized to prepare specification and secure bids to acquire a new fire engine. The new engine is to replace a 1989 Forstner Fire Engine. The specification will be completed in 2018 with delivery of the new truck coming in 2019. The fire truck replacement fund will have $550,000 designated for this replacement. The cost of this engine is estimated between $525,000 and $600,000.

The city purchased a 1,500 square foot parcel of land located next to South Market Park. The land in question is surrounded by a right-of-way and South Market Park. This has created an island situation for the property, which is unlikely to be developed. The property has been assessed at $600. The property currently belongs to the estate of recently deceased Magdalene V. Scharbach and has been offered for sale.

Christian said it was a unique opportunity to add to city park.

The council agreed to set up a sub-committee to look into the city’s Blight Ordinance. It will include Hippert, Mack, Christian, Zabel and Macho, as well as Police Chief Myron Wieland and Community Development Director David Schnobrich.