Should dogs be leashed in downtown Ridgefield? An ordinance could soon be in place.

Photo of Alyssa Seidman

RIDGEFIELD — Town officials have approved an ordinance that would require people walking with their dogs in downtown to keep the animal on a leash. Soon, voters will have their say on whether the ordinance should be implemented.

The Board of Selectmen approved the text of the ordinance last week. Once the language is reviewed and approved by counsel, it will be brought before residents during a public hearing and/or town meeting.

A leash ordinance was first discussed more than 10 years ago after a golden retriever puppy was attacked by two German shepherds near the Ridgefield Recreation Center.

First Selectman Rudy Marconi said officials considered creating a leash ordinance to accompany the town’s dog waste ordinance that passed several years ago. The provision requires individuals to clean up after their dogs on public or town-owned properties. Those found in violation of the ordinance are subject to a $25 fine.

Both the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Conservation Commission already have dog-leash regulations for parks and open-space parcels on the books. The town’s ordinance, however, would not supersede those.

According to town code, “no owner, keeper or person having charge of a dog or other animal shall permit or allow … (them) to run loose or to roam at large at any time upon any park.”

The Conservation Commission permits dogs to roam on open-space land “provided they are on a leash at all times.”

The consideration of a formal leash law is due to an increased presence of dogs on Main Street, Marconi said. The ordinance would cover downtown as defined by Ridgefield’s zoning regulations.

“If you were to sit out on a nice Saturday you would be astonished by the number of people who actually come into town for no other purpose than to walk their dog,” he said, “especially during COVID.”

Marconi said some people who walk their dogs on a leash have raised concerns about those that walk their dogs without one.

“It’s not because anything has happened, but it’s a concern that others have had about what may happen,” he said. “This is more (about) being proactive rather than reactive … and prevent that unnecessary accident from happening.”

The board reviewed the language of the new ordinance during its meeting last week. Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark said most people she’s spoken with think Ridgefield already has a leash law in place.

The selectmen discussed providing an exception to dogs that accompany blind and disabled persons.

“I’ve seen people walking dogs without leashes; can any one of those people come back and say ‘This is my therapy dog, this is my guide dog,’” Selectman Sean Connelly asked.

“It still has to be on a leash,” Selectman Bob Hebert said.

Board members agreed that an exception would only be granted to Ridgefield Police Department’s K-9 unit.

“They’re gonna have to be doing their job and sometimes they’re gonna be off leash,” Kozlark said.

The department would be charged with enforcing the ordinance if passed. Marconi said Monday the fine associated with violating the ordinance would be pursuant to state statues.