BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — DANVERS — Ingrid Barry says if dogs have to be on leashes, other pets should be under similar control when out and about, too.
Barry, a Precinct 6 Town Meeting member, has gone twice to the Board of Health to suggest that the town’s “dog leash law” be amended to include all such animals.
She presented her idea before the Board of Selectmen last week, saying if a citizen’s petition comes before Town Meeting in May, she would like the board’s support. Selectmen may take up Barry’s concerns at their April 1 meeting.
“All animals seems a very broad description,” said selectmen Chairman Gardner Trask at the meeting last week.
Barry said the wording came up in discussions with the Board of Health.
“Equality for all animals,” she told the board.
Public Health Director Peter Mirandi said the Board of Health recommended that species of animals not be singled out in any change to the town’s leash laws.
“The Board of Health will not take part in any ‘species-ist’ activities,” he said in an interview.
However, Barry is not trying to put leashes on chickens, she said in an interview. Instead, she is trying to draw attention to the public health concern of letting a pet, such as a cat or a ferret, roam free and come in contact with an animal carrying rabies. Safety is also one of her concerns.
“There are health issues concerning free-roaming cats and things,” Barry said.
At last week’s meeting, Barry said outdoor cats live shorter lives than those kept indoors. While she does not have a dog or a cat right now, Barry has an active bird feeder and sees how the birds attract cats. She said cats could be controlled with enclosures or electric fences, the same devices dog owners often use.
Dogs used to roam freely, but leash laws were passed to control dogs out of concern of rabies and the spread of their droppings.
According to the state Department of Public Health 2013 rabies summary, only two domestic animals in the state tested positive for rabies in 2012, both of them cats. One was a feral cat and the other a kitten that came from a local animal shelter, according to the report. A total of 781 cats were submitted for testing. No dogs tested positive last year of the 473 submitted for testing. Raccoons, skunks and foxes accounted for most of the positive results of wild animals.
There are also liability concerns of, for instance, letting a pet pot-bellied pig wander and cause damage in a neighbor’s yard, Mirandi said.
Last week, Selectman Bill Clark pressed Barry, the former head of the now defunct Danvers Bi-Peds, on which animals would be included under her amendment. She described “domestic pet animals” such as “cats, snakes, ferrets, dogs.”
“I think you would have a hard time getting a snake on a leash,” quipped Clark, who runs a farm on Hobart Street.
Clark did not want the proposed law to impact agriculture, and he thought the wording of her amendment was too broad.
“There must be some ulterior motive to this,” Clark said.
Barry said she wanted the bylaw to be inclusive, noting state law has changed to refer to an animal control officer, not a dog officer.
Mirandi said for a change to the town’s dog leash law to pass, it would take a two-thirds vote of Town Meeting. While the change is “not high on my list of priorities,” he said he can see why domestic pets might need to be kept from roaming free.
“It does make sense for the protection of public health,” he said.
The Board of Health will take up the matter at its meeting on April 3, he said.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.