Tales from The Trenches - Working Together Makes a Difference: A Local Story of Success
At their December meeting, the Westtown Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania, Planning Commission voted to recommend a proposed dog ordinance to the Board of Supervisors for final approval. Getting to this point was the culmination of significant effort by local resident, Christine Allen, the Pennsylvania Federation of Dog Clubs (PFDC), and AKC Government Relations (AKC GR) to make sure the ordinance did not have any negative impact on responsible dog owners.
As with many local issues, this one began with a complaint by a township resident about an irresponsible owner – in this case a neighbor not picking up after their dog on both private and public land. As a result, the Board of Supervisors tasked the Planning Commission with developing an ordinance to address the problem.
Initial research revealed that the township code lacked provisions addressing animal nuisance matters. To address the issue, the Planning Commission enlisted their consultant to provide some guidance on potential ordinance amendments. Specifically, the Commission was looking for strong language that would require animal owners to keep their pets under control.
As often happens once a proposed amendment is under development, the original “pooper scooper” problem developed into a proposal to cover other nuisance issues such as excessive barking, dogs running at large, and a number of other issues including limits on the number of dogs, and potential restrictions on training and grooming activities.
Fortunately, Christine (Chris) Allen, a resident of the Township and member of the Philadelphia Dog Training Club, became aware of the proposal. She immediately reached out to Darin Cox, President of PFDC who reached out to AKC GR. Together, they helped provide Ms. Allen with AKC GR resources to distribute to the commission.
As a result of these initial efforts, the commission directed the consultant to come back with a proposal limited to the main areas of concern: dog owners not being responsible in cleaning up after dogs, barking dogs and dogs not controlled by owners. The other issues were no longer being discussed.
Prior to the November 4, 2020 Planning Commission meeting, both Chris Allen and PFDC sent letters raising concerns that the ordinance could have “unintended consequences” for responsible dog owners if it went beyond the stated nuisance areas. In addition, AKC GR had personal conversations with Commission staff to express concerns and ensure that the ordinance would only cover the stated nuisance issues.
While the proposed ordinance presented in November did only cover the nuisance issues, it included a problematic leash law proposal that stated that anytime a dog was not behind a fence or similar deterrent, it had to be controlled by a leash and not by voice command. It was unclear how it would impact outdoor agility and similar events, and it did not allow service, farm, hunting, or other working dogs – or even theoretically a dog in its own yard under control of the owners – to legally be off leash at any time.
Fortunately, official procedures prevented the commission from immediately acting on this proposal. This delay gave PFDC and AKC GR time to again communicate concerns and provide the Planning Commission consultant with sample legislation from other municipalities to address concerns.
As a result of all this cooperation and work, on December 9, 2020, the Westtown Township Planning Commission voted to recommend a much-improved proposed ordinance to the Board of Supervisors for adoption by the Township. This final proposal allows for dogs to be considered under control by voice command if the owner was responsible and the dog was properly trained to be under control off leash. All other concerns raised over the previous months were removed or addressed.
To get to this point, a large portion of work took place behind the scenes. Whether it was a phone call or email from PFDC or AKC GR to key Township staff, or attendance at meetings by both Chris Allen and Charley Hall (AKC GR Legislative Analysis/Community Outreach Coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic Region), it was a collaborative effort to ensure that the needs of all dogs and their responsible owners were fully taken into account with the approval of the ordinance.
Working with PFDC and AKC GR, Chris was able to educate the Planning Commission and provide them with possible alternatives for consideration, so the ordinance did not have a negative impact on responsible dog owners in her municipality.
“This is truly a great example of two things: the power of teamwork, and democracy in action - local government with a transparent process and receptiveness to both resident and subject matter expert stakeholder input,” Ms. Allen said of the outcome.
“PFDC grows stronger with every organization that joins with us and makes it possible to get results like this,” added PFDC President Darin Cox.
While this story is not a fable, it does have a very important moral. Working together does make a difference. The next time something potentially problematic gets proposed at the local level that could negatively impact dogs and their responsible owners, do not feel that you need to fight the battle on your own. AKC’s Government Relations team and your state federation are here to partner with you, be a resource for you, and most importantly, support you.
“This is just a great example of what can get done if our local folks reach out and make the Federation or us aware of things going on in their own backyards,” said Charley Hall, AKC’s Regional Legislative Analyst/Community Outreach Coordinator.