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Wednesday, 21 March 2012 20:50

Do festivals and Fido mix? Sylva leaders ponder banning dogs from downtown street carnivals

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Prospects that Rover might one day find himself banned from attending events and festivals in traditionally pooch-friendly Sylva has left some dog owners here feeling like they are on the end of an increasingly short leash.

Town commissioners recently considered following Waynesville’s lead and prohibiting canines, even when controlled on leashes, from street festivals and town-sponsored functions.

Commissioner Harold Hensley emphasized on Tuesday “I am not a dog hater,” but said that he’s heard a rising tide of complaints from citizens and from law enforcement officers about dog-people interactions at town events and festivals.

“There was a man, he spread out on the ground for a picnic, and a big dog came up and helped himself to a piece of chicken off that man’s plate,” said Hensley, adding that more and more towns are moving to prevent those and more serious sorts of interactions.

Sylva leaders ultimately decided to postpone the discussion for now because one of the town’s most storied events, Greening Up the Mountains, is just around the corner, said Paige Roberson, head of the Downtown Sylva Association.

Greening Up, Sylva’s annual celebration of the arrival of spring when thousands converge on downtown for the biggest street festival of the year, takes place April 28.

The dog-ban issue hasn’t gone away, however, it simply has been postponed for additional debate until a later time. This frustrates dog owners in Sylva, who’ve been free to come and go with their animals as long as they abide by the town’s leash laws and clean up behind their animals when necessary.

“It kind of bugs me when people throw up blocks to bringing all God’s critters together,” said Annie Harlow, who is active in ARF, Jackson County’s humane society.

Harlow’s dog, P-Nut, is a rescue animal. Harlow said she hopes to bring P-Nut to Greening Up to help further socialize the terrier-mix dog.

Harlow emphasized that she’s in favor of some animal-oriented regulations, such as spay and neuter laws and animal-protection acts.

“But, we need to look at why we’re regulating and what it is accomplishing,” she said.

 

Eye-to-eye

Waynesville long has banned dogs, even when on leashes, from downtown street festivals. That town’s ordinance dates to 2002.

“We’ve had situations over time with dogs being eye to eye with babies and strollers, and situations when folks have almost tripped over dogs’ leashes,” said Buffy Phillips, executive director of the Downtown Waynesville Association.

Phillips said the ordinance seemed particularly critical because the sidewalks in Waynesville are narrower than in many other Western North Carolina towns. This placed dogs and people in uncomfortably close proximity, she said.

The decade-old ordinance places dog bans on Waynesville’s parades, four festivals, a block party and street dances. Signs are stuck in sidewalk flower planters on the approach to Main Street announcing the law to festival-goers.

An attempt to provide babysitting services for people’s puppies petered out almost as soon as it began. Haywood Animal Welfare Association offered dog sitting at a festival the first year the ordinance was passed, fearing owners would leave their pets in potentially lethal hot cars while partaking in the street festivities. But, finding volunteers proved difficult, and people just weren’t comfortable leaving their animals with strangers, Phillips said.

Dogs receive their dues and welcomes at Waynesville’s annual Dog Walk, she said, an event sponsored by Sarge’s Animal Rescue Foundation designed to highlight animal adoption efforts.

Dogs being brought to events and festivals in Franklin and posing hazards to others simply hasn’t been an issue to date in that town, said Franklin Planner Mike Grubbermann. For whatever reason, bringing dogs out into Franklin isn’t a particularly popular pastime, he said.

Pat Thomas, who lives in Sylva and is co-owner of City Lights Café on East Jackson Street, said that she’d be extremely disappointed and even shocked if dogs were banned at Sylva-based events and festivals.

The restaurant has a “pet friendly” patio so that people’s pets can be with there while their owners’ dine.

“In this day and age where pets are considered a part of the family, I cannot imagine not being able to bring my pet dog to an outdoor festival,” Thomas said. “Many visitors that come to this area vacation with their pets. I feel the demographic we are speaking of, in the majority, are responsible pet owners, whether they are visiting, or they reside here. I can definitely say that if I knew an area wasn’t pet friendly, I’d be reluctant to vacation there and would also not suggest the area to any friends.”

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