SCARBOROUGH – Town councilors voted Wednesday night to move forward with a ban on unleashed dogs at Scarborough’s beaches after hearing from a couple dozen residents, most of whom were dog owners opposing the change.

The proposal, prompted by an incident last month in which an unleashed dog killed a piping plover, would prohibit dogs on the town’s beaches without leashes from April 1 to mid-September, when the plovers are there.

The current ordinance allows unleashed dogs on the beaches from sunrise to 9 a.m. from July 1 through Sept. 15. Dogs are banned from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and allowed on leashes after 5 p.m.

During the rest of the year, unleashed dogs are permitted on the beaches at all times.

The council considered the proposed change for the first time at a meeting Wednesday. About 100 people attended.

The council will schedule a public hearing before taking its final vote on the ordinance.

Catherine Rogers, owner of the Dog Paws Inn on Gorham Road, said she gets calls from prospective vacationers who are looking for a place where their dogs can roam on the beaches. She called the proposed ban an “overreaction” that would reduce business for her and others in the town.

Douglas Lund-Yates, who walks his dog on Higgins Beach twice a day throughout the year, said the daytime ban is compromise enough for dogs and their owners.

“To walk your dog on the beach is a lifestyle for many, many people,” he said.

Lund-Yates and others said they’re the ones who take care of the beach, picking up trash along their walks. They said they would rather see more enforcement of the existing ordinance, which they said is frequently violated.

A few other dog owners, however, said they support the stricter leash law.

Paul Austin, who said he is a dog trainer, stopped going to the beach years ago because he was upset with the way people managed their dogs. He always kept his on a leash. He said no dog is completely reliable without one.

Lindsay Tudor, a wildlife biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said piping plovers are on the federal list of threatened species and the state’s list of endangered species.

Tudor named a few other species of birds on Scarborough beaches that are considered endangered.

She said the plovers arrive in March or April and nest through August. As soon as they’re hatched, the chicks begin to wander the beaches. She said they freeze when they sense danger and are difficult to spot.

The chick that was killed by a dog on July 15 was from one of four eggs that were seen on Pine Point Beach in the spring, according to the Maine Audubon Society. The other eggs did not hatch.

No action was taken again the dog owner, but a federal investigation continues into whether the town was adequately protecting the birds.

The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife recorded 47 pairs of piping plovers in Maine this summer.

Last year, a house cat was believed to have killed two adult piping plovers at Goose Rocks Beach in Kennebunkport.

Also Wednesday, the council voted to adopt new zoning for the 500-acre property that includes Scarborough Downs.

The zoning amendment would allow slot machines at the harness racing track if residents voted in a referendum to approve having them.

 

Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

lbridgers@pressherald.com