Common Council will vote tonight on allowing dogs on Ithaca Commons

March 4, 2015 by Mark H. Anbinder

"Should we allow dogs on the Commons?" That simple question on Mayor Svante Myrick's Facebook page sparked a lively discussion last week, with vocal proponents both for and against the idea. The Mayor says Ithaca's Common Council will vote on the question at tonight's meeting, scheduled for 6pm at City Hall.

The Planning and Economic Development Committee has proposed an amendment to the section of the City of Ithaca's municipal code that pertains to the Ithaca Commons with a number of changes, and one of the changes would strike the paragraph that states licensed dogs are allowed on the Commons only with a permit, and only with written permission of a business or residence owner on the Commons.

Mostly, the debate on the Mayor's post was civil, though one particularly strident opponent to the idea sparked such creative comments from others that she resorted to complaining to the Mayor that, essentially, someone was being mean to her on the Internet.

The question becomes one of quality of life. Dog owners appreciate the opportunity to bring their dogs with them while out and about. Tourists visiting the area with their dogs enjoy the company on their explorations. Some residents don't like dogs, are afraid of or allergic to them, or fear dogs will leave behind unwanted waste.

Others wonder whether the Ithaca Commons, a pedestrian mall in Downtown Ithaca that is, effectively, three city street blocks that have been closed to traffic, should be treated differently than any other city blocks -- where dogs are allowed without anyone thinking twice about it.

Some area restaurants that offer outdoor dining in good weather allow dogs, and often provide a water bowl for their canine guests. Strictly speaking, state law doesn't permit restaurants to allow dogs even in outdoor seating areas, other than service dogs, but it's a widely ignored prohibition.

To a suggestion that the City could provide "poop bags" and disposal stations, one commenter objected that taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for such supplies, though that's not so different from taxpayers paying for trash cans that some visitors, but not others, take advantage of for disposing of random litter.

No one disagrees that dog owners should be individually responsible for their dogs' behavior, or for cleaning up after them. But some area residents feel there's too much risk that a small minority of irresponsible dog owners or unfriendly dogs will make the majority look bad. The Ithaca Farmers Market once allowed dogs into the market pavilion at Steamboat Landing, but after limiting that to Sundays only, eventually had to stop allowing dogs into the pavilion at all.

What do you think? As long as dog owners are responsible for controlling their dogs and cleaning up any messes, should they be allowed on the Commons?

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