BRUNSWICK — One Monday morning this summer, Jacqui Koopman, the manager of the wildly popular Saturday morning market at Crystal Spring Farm, walked into her office and announced she’d had it.

Maybe it was the pooping that pushed her over the edge. Possibly the peeing. Lunging and snarling were also a problem.

Fia, a regular fixture at the Portland Farmers’ Market, sits up in anticipation while Dick Piper of Piper Ranch holds out his handmade hog-and-berry jerky. Joe Toste, holding the leash, was walking the dog for a friend. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

“We have got to have a dog policy,” Koopman says she told her colleagues at the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, which runs the seasonal outdoor market. From her official vantage point at the market, standing behind a table in the middle of a rectangle of booths manned by oyster and vegetable farmers, cheesemakers, spice merchants, coffee roasters and bakers, she’d seen every manner of bad behavior, both from the four-legged attendees who lifted their legs on everything from tablecloths to coolers to the booths, and from the humans at the other end of their leashes.

Just the week before, as the market drew to a close, she said a co-worker called her attention to “a giant pile of dog poop” left in the middle of the market. A paper bag was lying next to it, as if signaling a right intention undermined by the wrong material.

Starting October 6, all dogs but those belonging to vendors will be banned from the market at Crystal Spring, which according to the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets, is believed to be the first outdoor market of the approximately 120 in the state to say no to dogs.

“I am not aware of any that prohibit customers from bringing dogs,” said Hanne Tierney, the chair of the federation’s board, as well as the chairman of farmers markets in Portland and Waterville.

But there is certainly debate. Tierney said in an email that customer surveys show that people “feel strongly on both sides of the issue.”

In Brunswick, the issue has been discussed before. “For 19 years,” Angela Twitchell, the executive director of the land trust, said ruefully. “As long as the market has been there (at Crystal Spring).” They’ve tried signage, outlining the rules – including leashes and keeping your dog out of the vendors’ booths – and gentle in-person persuasion.

“We have talked to people about it,” Twitchell said. “We have had board members and volunteers at the market handing out little cards when we have seen misbehaving dogs and owners.”

But between dog “quarrels” as the land trust sweetly describes it, small children being scared by big dogs and the issue of defecation and urination – along with related food safety issues – the market, which is overseen by 19 board members, felt the tipping point was reached this summer.

“It was getting worse,” Twitchell said. “The board felt it was becoming a safety concern.”

GONE TO THE DOGS

The market at Crystal Spring opens at 8:30 a.m. and runs until 12:30 p.m. Parking attendants hit a clicker to count the cars pulling into the lot, and Twitchell said an estimated 3,000 visitors come through on a typical Saturday. It’s gone from a market with nine vendors (many of the originals still come) in its early years to about 42 now.

In recent years, the market’s popularity has spiked. The surge may have started in 2013, when Yankee magazine said it was the best farmers market in Maine. This summer Down East magazine readers gave it the same honor.

“Which may have contributed to an increase in the dog population,” Koopman said. Some probably belong to summer tourists – she said license plates from places as far flung as Alaska and Wyoming show up in the parking lot.

Koopman said she ceased to feel guilty about suggesting it was time for a ban when she realized the dogs themselves would be better off not coming to the market. “The dogs are often anxious,” she said. “That is what I have witnessed. They are tense. It is crowded. And there they are, being asked not to go near great-smelling food.”

Jane Hagness’ dog, Moose, left, approaches Caroline Murphy and her dog, Nicky, at Crystal Spring farmers market on Aug. 18. Both women live in the area and bring their dogs to the market often. “I only bring him (Nicky) because he is good,” Murphy said. “He enjoys being here and seeing everybody.” Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Some vendors pass out treats to the dogs. At one booth on Labor Day weekend, an elderly woman lamented the new rule as her dog accepted a bone from a jar. The vendor bent down and petted the dog, responding sympathetically to the woman. Meanwhile, her co-worker murmured that she can’t wait for the ban to take place. “Too many dogs,” she said.

From Koopman’s perspective, trouble arises when the owners are distracted by bumping into a friend, or making a purchase and the dog pulls in another direction, perhaps even plucking a half-eaten bagel from a child’s hand. Then there are the dog-on-dog disputes, which may sound worse than they are (barks and bites after all) but which have caused some shoppers with small children to complain. These disputes often happen right at the toddler eye level, but some owners are oblivious to how scary that might be, or whether their dog is at fault.

“It’s like parents,” Koopman said. “We never think our children are the ones.”

And as she pointed out, the farmers market is not a playground for dogs. It’s a place to buy food.

LADY GODIVA

On a Saturday in late August, when the news had started to spread about the ban, market regular Brian Boyle of Brunswick was headed back to the parking lot with an armful of groceries and a chocolate-colored Pomeranian named Godiva. She’d recently been mauled at a dog-friendly event in Eliot, Hops & Hounds. “She got bit onto by a great big dog and put in a death shake,” Boyle said. “We’re lucky she is still alive.”

“The dog problem is a human problem, as we all know,” Boyle said.

At the Brunswick market, he often carries Godiva protectively. But he’s fine with leaving her at home in the future.

“Whatever the event wants to do, I’m good with that,” Boyle said. “To me, it’s not a big deal.”

Just then, a woman shouted and Boyle, a parking lot attendant and a few others turned to watch as two dogs and two owners squared off. “The lady tripped over her own dog, and then she yelled at the other guy,” observed shopper Allen Cohen, better known as “Big Al” of Big Al’s Super Values in Wiscasset. He comes to the Brunswick market every Saturday morning and his dog, Miss Lily, accompanies him, but only as far as the parking lot.

“My dog is in the car with the windows open and the radio on, which is where they belong at a market,” Coehn said. “And when I get back there she is going to love me just as much.”

Jay Ross and his dog, Brandy, browse at the Brunswick market. Ross, who was visiting from Pennsylvania, said he brings Brandy to farmers markets all the time. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

A few minutes later, the woman who had shouted, Tracy Johnson-Colby of Harpswell, was introducing her golden retriever, Birdie, 61/2, to another golden, a 15-year-old named Callie.

Both Johnson-Colby and Callie’s owner, Brunswick resident Cynthia Shelmerdine, said they were upset about the ban. Shelmerdine has two goldens, and uses the market as training ground. “It is a good place for them to learn to be quiet in public.”

Both agreed they would keep coming, even after the ban takes effect (the land trust planned it for the last month of the outdoor season, so it’s not such a rude awakening for dog owners next spring).

“But it is a real disappointment,” Johnson-Colby said. “I am surprised they didn’t maybe poll more people.”

Birdie, she explained, had recently been credentialed as a therapy dog, and would soon be a regular at area nursing homes, hospitals and the like.

Lillian Futreal, 3, plays with Scout, a dog at the market with its owner. Lillian’s mother, Emily Futreal of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., said they came to the market that morning specifically because her daughter wanted to see dogs.

“If this dog is a therapy dog, she should be allowed in the market,” Johnson-Colby said. “Kids love her, she loves kids and she’s not a threat and she’s not eating people’s bagels.”

She then gave a demonstration of Birdie sitting quietly, with treats balanced in both front paws. The dog studiously ignored them until Johnson-Colby gave her the go-ahead to eat.

Her suggestion to the people who run the market? “It would be pretty simple to have an interview with dog owners and have a little tag that they could wear that says, ‘you are OK at the market.’ ” Summer people, she noted, would perhaps be out of luck under such a system. But locals would still be able to enjoy walking around with their dogs and their dozen farm fresh eggs.

Typically, she leaves Birdie in the car while she shops, bringing her out for purchase-free training sessions only.

“I must admit I ran in to get a cantaloupe, but ordinarily, I would not shop (with her),” Johnson-Colby said.

“I did just get rushed by a dog,” she added. “And I almost fell over and cracked my head. Did you hear me scream?”

Yes.

“He was not paying attention to his dog,” Johnson-Colby said. “His dog lunged at my dog, and my dog does not lunge because she has been properly trained.”

Regardless, the board has decided; all canine lunging will cease on Oct. 6.

“We hate to mess with the magic of Crystal Spring Market,” Twitchell said. “Which is a lot more than just food.”

But she’s been surprised at how few complaints she’s heard since word of the impending ban spread, including from dog owners telling her it was about time because the situation had gotten out of hand. “I expected we would get lots of negative feedback.” There was one shopper with a dog who told her he’d never return to the market. “And then his wife whispered, ‘Yes we will,’ ” Twitchell said.

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:

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