Above, what you will not be seeing on the Ithaca Commons

Ithaca, N.Y. — Should dogs be allowed on the Ithaca Commons?

Currently, dog owners need special permits to bring their furry friends on the busiest downtown strip in the city.

But that could change. Ithaca is in preliminary stages of discussions that could turn the Commons into a more pet-friendly place.

Draft legislation discussed by the Commons Advisory Board last week proposes allowing leashed dogs “under the control of their owner” to walk the Commons. The new rule would eliminate the current restrictions.

The long-discussed idea was recently revived by officials with the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, which has noted that there have been successful similar models in other cities, according to City Clerk Julie Holcomb.

Holcomb, who stressed that the proposed legislation would have many hurdles to jump before passage, said she thinks “attitudes have changed for a number of reasons” about dogs in busy pedestrian areas.

Okay, so dogs are cute. But do they really belong on the Commons?

Holcomb gave several reasons one might support the idea, including:

1 — Money to the city.

Holcomb said Ithaca may be leaving money on the table by not encouraging dog owners — and their wallets — to frequent the Commons.

She cited as an example a group of Greyhound owners that takes a wine tour every year and often expresses interest in stopping in downtown Ithaca. But since the owners can’t walk the Commons with their hounds, the group ends up going elsewhere.

“The (Downtown Ithaca Alliance) may be worried we’re missing out on additional income,” Holcomb said.

2 — Current provisions aren’t enforced.

Holcomb noted that dogs are already on the Commons but that the Ithaca Police Department doesn’t have the manpower to enforce the current provisions and kick them out.

“There are a lot of dogs on the Commons right now, and they’re not regulated,” Holcomb said. “If we don’t have the ability to strictly enforce this legislation, and they’re on there and not causing a lot of trouble, what is the harm?”

3 — Changing attitudes toward dogs.

People may have simply grown more accustomed to having dogs in their lives, Holcomb said.

“I think social behavior between people and their animals is much different than it used to be,” Holcomb said.

“Dogs are not only in people’s homes; now, they’re in their beds; they’re carrying them around in their purses.”

But there’d have to be some rules, right?

While the new provisions would allow dogs on the Commons, the legislation also suggests ways to make sure they don’t get out of control.

The legislation thus calls for rules against what it calls “unreasonable howling or barking.”

The draft legislation goes on to define “unreasonable howling” as including “but not limited to, the following:”

— “Howling, barking or other noise made by a dog and continuing for more than three cumulative minutes in any sixty-minute period; or
— “The existence of complaints concerning the noise from persons living or working in the vicinity of the noise and who are affected by it.”

The legislation also says dogs “shall not chase, leap on, or otherwise harass any person or other animal in such manner as reasonably to cause intimidation or to put such person or animal in reasonable apprehension of bodily harm or injury.”

Have we been here before?

Holcomb said this sort of idea has come up at least twice in a little over a dozen years.

“This is a topic we have been discussing for the better part of 15 years,” she said.

The two biggest concerns that are usually raised?

1) The existence of “aggressive dogs;” 2) Making sure owners clean up after the dogs, according to Holcomb.

This story makes me want to look at cute photos of dogs. Where can I do that?

Sheesh, and we thought you were here to learn about proposed city ordinances.

You can find adorable dog photos here, here, here and — oh lord! — most definitely here.

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.