SCARBOROUGH – Scarborough Town Council Chairman Ronald Ahlquist thinks dogs should be leashed on town beaches, in part to protect nesting birds, and he wants the council to discuss coming up with clearer and stronger ordinances at an upcoming meeting.

Ahlquist said he has wanted stronger regulations for two months, but his impatience with unleashed dogs on the beach increased when a rare piping plover was killed July 15 by an unleashed dog on Pine Point Beach.

Piping plovers are classified as endangered by the state and threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Maine has 47 nesting pairs of the birds. The dog’s owner could face jail time or a fine up to $1,000.

Sgt. Tim Spahr with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife said in an interview July 16 that the owner came forward and was cooperating with the investigation. Spahr could not be reached for comment Thursday, and a spokesperson for the department said he had no other details about the case.

Piping plovers return to nesting beaches in early spring. In April, volunteers with the Maine Audubon Society mark the nests or places where piping plovers are seen congregating with stake-and-twine “fences.”

Current town ordinances governing dogs on the beach and near designated piping plover habitat can be hard to decipher, Ahlquist said.

The town’s animal control ordinance states, “no dog shall approach within 150 feet of (a protected area) unless the dog is attached to a leash.”

But the town’s separate piping plover ordinance states, “Where plover fencing is present, all dogs must be leashed and kept at least 150 feet away from the fencing.”

Sgt. John O’Malley with the Scarborough Police Department said he also wishes the ordinances were more clear. “This is a good example of two ordinances written at two different times, and there is an overlapping,” O’Malley said.

Keeping their distance from a piping plover site is not the only consideration for pet walkers visiting Scarborough beaches. Dog owners also must be mindful of the time of day and the time of year.

The ordinances state that from Sept. 16 to June 14, owners can have dogs on the beach off-leash and under “voice control,” meaning the dog obeys voice commands. Owners also have to carry a leash.

From June 15 to Sept. 15, dogs are allowed under voice control only from sunrise to 9 a.m. From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., dogs are prohibited on the beach, and after 5 p.m. they must be leashed.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, Pine Point Beach was teeming with dogs. Most were leashed and trotting beside their owners, while some ran freely in the sand and waves.

Jade Hicks had her 8-month-old Lab mix Foster off his leash. She said she wasn’t aware of the leash rule in the evenings and doesn’t agree with it.

“I drive 45 minutes from Gorham to come here just so he can run and play,” she said. “I mean, if you know your dog is going to go after other dogs and stuff, keep him on a leash.”

Jim Casella disagreed. He said his 2-year-old dog Shasta was attacked by another dog near his home in Lisbon, and he believes dogs should be leashed on the beach.

“Especially with kids around, you just never know if there’s an aggressive dog, and some kids will tease dogs,” he said.

Ahlquist said voice control isn’t always effective and the ordinances should be strengthened, clarified and posted on the beach, especially during piping plover nesting season.

“I think dogs ought to be on leashes,” said Ahlquist, who worked for six years as a park ranger at Crescent Beach and currently works at Rangeley Lake State Park. “People don’t go to our beaches sometimes because they don’t want to be harassed, you know, with dogs off the leash running or bumping into people.”

Ron Berman, a canine behavioral consultant and trainer who serves as an expert witness in dog-bite litigation cases, agreed that no dog can be controlled completely when its instincts kick in. “Even with the best trained dogs, nothing is 100 percent reliable,” he said.

Ahlquist said he plans to begin a discussion about the ordinance at a committee meeting Tuesday. Any proposal that comes out of the meeting could be put on the agenda for the Aug. 21 town council meeting.

“We would go from there and hopefully take some quick action,” he said. “The goal would be to have something in place by early September.”

 

Karen Antonacci can be contacted at 791-6377 or at:

kantonacci@mainetoday.com