Section 157-15 of the Ithaca City Code reads, in pertinent part: “No animals are allowed on the Primary Commons except by special permit. This provision does not apply to service animals providing assistance to people with special needs and police working dogs.”
The Common Council last voted to uphold this canine ban in 2015 and is not planning to reconsider it in the immediate future. However, they recently (December) asked the Public Safety and Information Commission, an unelected body of volunteers, to look into alternative policies. They are due to report to the Common Council by September.
With so much at stake, I was able to score a quick interview with newly-anointed Doctor Mayor Svante Myrick last week at City Hall, between work sessions on the Ithaca Green New Deal.
SBR: Dr. Mayor, I hear big changes are being considered. Why dogs, and why now? After all, the Commons has been dog-free since it opened.
MYRICK: I’m glad you asked that question. The studies all show that recently the United States of America has completely taken leave of its senses when it comes to dogs. Plus, now that hundreds of additional people will soon be living on or near the Commons, the issue has become even more urgent.
SBR: Why only dogs, though? Aren’t you throwing the city open to charges of species-ism? It’s Ithaca, after all. I know a family that has a pot-bellied pig, and they take her everywhere.
MYRICK: The data suggests that allowable pets should not include animals that are routinely turned into delicious breakfast meat, or animals that would quickly eat their owners if their owners were suddenly shrunk to the size of a mouse. So, no cats, either.
SBR: What about ferrets?
MYRICK: The studies also all show that no sane person would own a ferret.
SBR: As I understand it, right now certified service animals are allowed on the Commons.
MYRICK: That is true. In fact, for 35 bucks, you can get a certificate online that allows you to take your dog with you into an operating room during brain surgery, and there’s not a darn thing they can do about it. All perfectly legal.
SBR: Well, my dog hasn’t been made official. If they let common street dogs on the Commons, would anything change?
MYRICK: Oh, my yes. We’re investigating maintaining a constant nine-resident squirrel population as an amenity for canine citizens. Also, we’re pricing out having a tennis ball dispenser at each end of the Commons and a butt-sniffing station adjacent to the new Bernie Milton Pavilion.
SBR: What about people who don’t want the law changed? I assume you’re considering some restrictions. There seems to be an idea that the Commons will become a “minefield,”, if you know what I mean.
MYRICK: I do know. The rules would have to specify that dog owners pick up solid waste after their pets, not let them jump on or harass people or other animals, that sort of thing. They would also have to spell out dog-related nuisance activities, like howling or barking. My own proposal includes time limits on leg-humping and crotch-sniffing, maybe 20 seconds.
SBR: Speaking of solid waste, there are bound to be…fecal smears. Will this affect the five-second rule for dropped food on the Commons?
MYRICK: (after consulting with LAVINE) Yes. Yes, it will. A revised Section 157 would include a repeal of the five-second rule on the Commons. I would point out that there is already no five-second rule outside the Chanticleer or Moonies on weekend evenings.
SBR: Will there be any prohibition regarding people referring to their dogs as their “children,” or even “furbabies”?
LAVINE: I can answer that. The Supreme Court has ruled that even deeply misguided, wrong-headed, or faintly creepy speech is protected by the First Amendment. Similarly, there will be no restriction on ridiculous canine activities, such as carrying a dog in a baby-carrier or having them wear booties. It’s a freedom of expression issue.
SBR: Once, at the dog park, I watched a St. Bernard scarf up another dog’s turds and then lick his owner’s face while she repeatedly asked, “Who’s a good dog?” Can we expect to be subjected to these types of scenes on a regular basis on the Commons?
MYRICK: There is no way to write a dignity component into a statute. We’ve tried. We’re going to have to rely on good choices being made by dog owners.
SBR: Thank you, your majesty.
MYRICK: Any time.