ITHACA, N.Y. — Lou Cassaniti, aka Lou the hot dog guy, has been on the Commons selling hot dogs for about 24 years. And now, the city of Ithaca is threatening to move his cart elsewhere if he continues calling Riley the Outdoor Store dog to his stand for scraps.

If there was ever a small town story that could have a real impact on the people, this is it.

Riley is a two-and-a-half year old golden retriever who has graced Ithacans with her gentle spirit and love for chicken. If you’re passing by the Outdoor Store on the Commons, you’ve definitely seen her and have probably pet her. She even has an Instagram with almost 600 followers where she is photographed supporting local businesses, posing with fans, and sporting her outdoor gear.

I think, a pack in lunch is a plan. Right????

A post shared by Riley (@riley_outdoorstore) on

Lou the hot dog guy sells hot dogs, burgers, bratwurst and spiedies directly across from the Outdoor Store. A local celebrity in his own right, Lou’s $2 hot dogs are well known to people who frequent downtown.

He doesn’t pet Riley while he’s working with the food, but he tosses her a piece of chicken or hot dog on an almost daily basis.

That’s where the trouble starts.

It’s illegal under city code 157-12 to have a dog or animal without special permitting by the city. One of those special permits is outlined under section C of the city code. It states:

A permit shall allow tenants and owners of premises on the Primary Commons, or the customers of businesses that require the presence of animals to perform the function of the business, to transport their animals to and from their premises in the shortest and most direct route possible. Animals shall be leashed or transported in carriers.

Riley is licensed, but does not have the special permit as listed above. Her owner declined to comment much for this story, but said Riley has gotten one $25 ticket in the past two years or so for being on the Commons.

In a letter sent to Lou the hot dog guy, the city says Lou calls an unleashed Riley out of the store and feeds her, allegedly in violation of the city code. The city code, however, does not state that people cannot feed or pet dogs on the Commons.

In fact, on most days during lunch hour, people eating lunch at tables near the hot dog stand can be seen feeding and petting the unleashed Riley.

For Lou, it’s the selective enforcement that bothers him. Why pick out Lou for feeding Riley when so many other people do it as well?

“City codes are city codes and I am in violation, which I admit…We all know who Riley is. She’s probably the biggest celebrity on the Commons,” he said ” I feel a little bit disappointed because I’m being singled out…we should have uniform code.”

Lou said he sees people smoking and riding bikes through the Commons, and he of course sees people with their dogs on the Commons. He says he knows and respects many of the officers downtown but enforcement against these smaller violations is sparse, making him feel singled out.

He plans to bring his complaints to the Commons Advisory Board this Friday at 8:30 a.m. at City Hall.

A letter Lou Cassaniti received from the City of Ithaca.
A letter Lou Cassaniti received from the City of Ithaca.

The dog days of the Ithaca Commons dog enforcement

According to the Ithaca Police Department, about one ticket per month is usually issued to a person for illegally having a dog on the Ithaca Commons. But people on the Commons are likely to see a dog walking around during nearly every visit.

The lack of enforcement prompted Mayor Svante Myrick to bring up the issue of dogs on the Commons again in May.

In online polls conducted on Myrick’s social media and The Ithaca Voice website, people resoundingly voted yes to allow dogs on the Commons.

But there has been no official movement about dogs on the Commons since then.

The issue was last raised by Common Council in 2015, when it was decided that dogs would not be allowed in the new Commons.

Common Council members cited concerns about safety and dog waste in the new Commons.

Reference to Greek myth proves unconvincing as Ithaca rejects dogs on Commons

Michael Thorne, Superintendent of Public Woks, and City Attorney Ari Lavine did not respond a request for comment by deadline.

Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.