This comment and opinion are by Kearn C Schemm.
Pet owners and lovers are not happy about several of the provisions in the proposed ordinance.
Cat owners are amazed that they will be, by the language of the ordinance, obliged to have their cat on a leash if it should wander off the property. How often has anyone, anywhere, seen a cat on a leash? In my 71 years of life, I have seen as many cats on a leash as pet rabbits on a leash – two of each.
Dog owners object to many of the provisions, indeed, persons who at first supported the idea of a leash law are now distancing themselves from it. One comment was, “I didn’t want this, this is nothing like I expected.” The new ordinance’s current language as written makes it illegal to have your dog off-leash on the beach at any time. This is opposed to the old tradition in Cape Charles that voice control was good enough for dogs playing on the beach during allowed hours. Another VERY thorny issue is the prohibition of leashed dogs on the boardwalk (what I refer to as the Promenade, since there are no boards) during the hours of 10 AM to 9 PM. The Promenade is the widest sidewalk in town and this provision makes no sense to any of us.
The ordinance also fails to take into account technological developments such as e-collars that allow dog owners to control their dogs at a distance without the use of a leash. Allowing for use of e-collars in the place of leashes would go a long way to make the ordinance more reasonable. Another issue is the required leash lengths – at least 6 feet long and no more than 20 feet long. A large dog needs a short leash for effective control and a 20-foot long leash gives no control over any dog. Finally, the ordinance does not mention an exemption for Service Animals, which I believe would be required under Federal Law.
Another issue we have is with enforcement. We do not appear to have 24/7 police coverage at present in Cape Charles, are we really going to expend precious police resources chasing people who have dogs on leashes less than six feet long or are walking their dogs on the Promenade at 10:15 in the morning? If we have police resources to do that, we should consider using them for more important issues. If we do not have the resources to enforce the ordinance across the board, any enforcement will, by its very nature be arbitrary and give rise to unfair treatment of some of our residents and visitors.
The proposed ordinance, in short, isn’t well written and is not a good fit for the town of Cape Charles. The ordinance should be tabled, a commission of interested parties created to discuss whatever problems exist and find the least offensive solution to those problems. No real discussion has happened at Town Meetings since interested parties are limited to three minutes of comment – this short time precludes any real discussion which could lead to a nuanced, reasonable ordinance. This ordinance modification should not be passed over the heads of the many, many dog and cat owners in this town that it would impact.