FONTANA — Dog owners who take their pets to outdoor festivals and fairs are getting a new message from the village: Leave your four-legged companions at home.
The Fontana Village Board has voted to prohibit dogs from parks and other village property during special events.
That includes the yearly lobster and steak feast, the farmers market, the triathlon and other large events.
Village officials say they took action because a Great Dane showed up this summer and upset customers by trying to snatch food at the Big Foot Lions Club Lobster Boil and Steak Fry.
“It caused a little bit of a ruckus,” Village President Pat Kenny said. “There were quite a few people who complained.”
So the village board voted Oct. 2 to ban dogs from such events — whether the animals are on leashes or not — unless the pet owner has gotten advanced approval from the village.
In addition to the lobster and steak fry, the prohibition includes the Pig in the Park charity event, the Fontana Easter egg hunt, the new Fontana triathlon, and a Fontana farmers market expected to be revived next year.
Officials said they would make an exception for a special Easter egg hunt that is organized specifically for dogs.
Police Chief Jeff Cates said he hopes dog owners realize there are sanitary reasons not to permit dogs at events where people are eating food.
“I think people are pretty understanding of that,” Cates said.
Dog owners at Reid Park, however, are expressing mixed feelings about the new policy.
Libby Brooks of Fontana said she takes her Australian shepherd to public events, and the dog, named “L.C.,” has never created a problem. Brooks said she is disappointed to hear about the village’s ban.
“She’s part of the family,” Brooks said of her dog. “She comes to family events with us.”
Voicing agreement with the village are Mike and Elizabeth Jerfita, who live in Williams Bay but who visit Fontana frequently with their sheepdog, “Molly.”
The Jerfitas said they wish the village could allow four-legged visitors at select public gatherings, like the farmers market. But they agree that too many dogs at a crowded event can be a problem.
“It makes me sad, but I understand,” Elizabeth Jerfita said.
Phil and Amanda Seeber of Fontana normally leave their Border collie, “Penny,” at home during festivals and such. They have seen other dogs at such events, and they have never had an objection.
Rather than a government mandate, Phil Seeber said he would like to see dog owners exercise discretion about pets that should not be included in big crowds.
“It’s kind of a shame that they have to ruin it for everybody else,” he said. “Most people should know: If you bring your dog and they can’t handle it, you should leave.”
The village this year has issued 50 dog licenses for animals kept in the village.
Not too many years ago, dogs were not allowed at all in Reid Park, Pioneer Park or Duck Pond Recreation Area. The village relaxed the rules three years ago by allowing dog owners to walk their pets in the parks on leashes.
That led to the situation that raised eyebrows in July at the lobster and steak feast, which draws hundreds of patrons to Reid Park each year to raise money for the Lions Club.
Andy Pearce, co-chairman of the event, said he remembers seeing three dogs at the festival this year.
One dog in particular was a Great Dane whose owners brought the dog over to the food line, where the animal tried to grab a snack.
Referring to the dog’s owners, Pearce said, “The people should’ve known better.”
Kenny, who is president of the Lions Club, said village officials then realized that they were risking a safety issue whenever an animal sees a person carrying food in their hands.
“It was probably a bad idea,” Kenny said.
With the new ban on dogs at public events, Pearce said he is uncertain whether the change could cause some patrons to stay away, unhappy that their pets are not welcome.
But he voiced confidence that going dog-free will not cause a dramatic decline in attendance at important community events.
“They’ll just have to leave their dogs at home,” he said.