Saturday, May 25, 2013
SACO — A proposal to limit dogs on the city’s public beaches has dog owners worried they will lose one of the last places they can take their dogs to swim in the ocean on warm summer days.
Shannan Hall-Nutting, owner of Finish Forward Dogs in Saco, plays with Curly at Bayview Beach Wednesday. Some Saco residents have complained that the beach has become a “dog mecca” since beaches in neighboring communities have curtailed dogs’ access.
Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer
Sasparilla, a Newfoundland puppy on a leash held by Inchieh Chen, left, of Kennebunk, runs over to Curly, a yellow lab on a leash held by Shannan Hall-Nutting of Saco at Bayview Beach Wednesday. Hall-Nutting said it would be unfortunate to lose beach access for dogs.
Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer
Prompted by complaints from residents at a waterfront condominium complex near Bayview Beach, the City Council this month asked Police Chief Brad Paul to draft an ordinance that would limit when dogs are allowed on public beaches.
Currently, dogs must be on leash or under voice control, and owners must clean up after their dogs.
City councilors will consider the issue Aug. 6, but Mayor Mark Johnston said he doesn’t think anything will change.
“I do not believe the council will do any restrictions other than what is already there,” Johnston said. “Dog lovers, don’t fear. Your family members can continue to use the beach.”
Dog access to public beaches has been a controversial issue in several southern Maine coastal towns.
After years of debate about dogs on Willard Beach, South Portland voters in 2008 rejected a proposal to ban dogs during the summer. But dogs are not allowed on beaches during the day in Old Orchard Beach, Scarborough and Biddeford during the summer months. Dogs are banned April through September from the beach at Ferry Beach State Park, which is between the two stretches of public beach in Saco.
As more bans have been put in place at other beaches, more dogs are showing up in Saco, according to residents at the Baywood condominium complex, located near the Bay View Beach public parking lot and beach access point at Seaside Avenue and Bayview Road.
“The Saco oceanfront beaches have become the ‘dog mecca’ of southern Maine,” Joseph Pacella, president of the Baywood Condominium Owner’s Association, wrote in a letter to city officials this summer.
Sally Sea, a condo board member, said residents are mostly concerned about sanitation.
“There are a lot of people who do not clean up after their animals. We don’t have a whole lot of beach,” Sea said. “A lot of owners do everything right, but the people out there who don’t are the ones we’re concerned about.”
Saco police have not received any complaints other than from the condo association, according to Paul. After the first letter, he sent Animal Control Officer Bruce Reynolds to survey the beach from various vantage points and at different times.
“(Reynolds) found that roughly two out of three people with dogs had physical leashes on their dogs.
The vast majority of the rest had their dogs in close proximity,” Paul said.
Joseph Hirsch, director of Saco Parks and Recreation Department, said that during his 20 years with the city, his lifeguards have not reported any problems with dog owners who won’t comply with the rules when asked.
Shannan Hall-Nutting, a dog trainer and owner of Finish Forward Dogs in Saco, brings her own dogs to the beach frequently but also holds training sessions on Bayview to help bridge the gap between classes and real-world situations.
“I’ve never had any reason for concern about the dogs on the beach. It would really be unfortunate to lose that access,” she said Wednesday as she watched friends’ dogs play in the surf. “This is one of the gems we have in the area.”
Other dog owners said they were surprised the City Council was considering limits to dog access.
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