The fight to overturn a recently adopted town-wide, year-round leash law in Scarborough has begun in earnest, with a local dog-lovers group scheduling public forums, establishing a website and a social media presence, and filing papers to raise money as a political action committee.

Dog Owners of Greater Scarborough (DOGS) will hold two “educational forums” at town hall, starting at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 6, and Wednesday, Nov. 20. According to DOGS spokesperson Suzanne Foley-Ferguson, members of the group’s campaign team will be on hand “to help educate the public about the referendum, the process, the ordinance, and why we are urging Scarborough residents to vote, No.”

At its Nov. 6 meeting, the Scarborough Town Council is slated to formally accept petitions file by DOGS to overturn an Oct. 2 vote updating the town’s animal control ordinance. That vote made it illegal to allow a dog to be off leash on public property anywhere in town. Previously, the only local restriction was during the summer months, from June 15 to Sept. 15 on municipal beaches, from 9 a.m. until sunset.

The July 15 mauling of an endangered piping plover chick by a dog on Pine Point Beach prompted an investigation and subsequent $12,000 fine by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which ruled the town “knowingly” caused a violation of the Endangered Species Act by allowing an overly lax leash law.

An agreement brokered between the town and the feds knocked the fine down to $500 in return for a number of concessions, including extension of the ban of unleashed dogs from beaches from April 1 to Aug. 30 of each year. DOGS members, lamenting the loss of the summertime window of free run on beaches from sunrise to 9 a.m., said even that move went too far. They then felt “blindsided,” they said, when, on Oct. 2, the Town Council voted 5-2 to extend the proposed amendment to the town’s animal control ordinance from summertime on the beaches to all public property, year-round.

In addition to the two DOGS forums, the council is required by the town charter to hold a public hearing on the petition within 30 days of the petition’s acceptance, expected Nov. 6. The charter calls on the overturn vote to be held within 30 days of the public hearing. Because the charter-mandated wording of the referendum questions asks if voters want to uphold the council’s Oct. 2 decision, residents must vote “no” to overturn the vote and return to previous version of the animal control ordinance.

In addition to its upcoming forums, DOGS has created a website to advocate for its cause at www.ShareScarborough.com, as well as a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/sharescarborough.

According to Foley-Ferguson, DOGS also has filed paperwork with the town clerk to operate as a political action committee, allowing it to raise and spend money on its campaign. Maine law requires such filings in towns and cities with more than 15,000 residents, along with the filing of campaign finance reports.


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