Saco proposes updates to its dog ordinance. A public hearing is scheduled for Feb. 1. Portland Press Herald Photo

SACO — Dog owners who take their canines to Saco beaches from April 1 to Sept. 30 will have to leash them, according to a proposed update of the city’s dog ordinance, but will get a break in the off-season from Oct. 1 to March 31, where they can be on voice and sight control while on the beach.

Saco fielded 35 complaints about loose dogs in 2020, 36 in 2019 and 25 in 2018, according to statistics compiled by the city. The municipality received reports of eight dog attacks in 2020, and seven each in 2019 and 2018. It received three complaints of dogs at large in 2020, seven in 2019 and nine in 2018. In all, Saco received 46 dog complaints in 2020, 50 in 2019 and 41 in 2018.

The proposed updates, which also includes a ban on dogs on sports fields  and playing fields, come as a result of concerns about the current ordinance.

“It was determined that updates to the animal control ordinance were necessary regarding dogs being under voice control, running at large, and specifying areas where dogs should be restricted,” said Councilor Marshall Archer, reading from a prepared commentary. “Amendments to the Dog Ordinance include updated definitions, leash laws, and specifications of when and where a dog can be off leash.”

The current ordinance states, in part, that dogs must be leashed and under the control of owners at all times from April 1 to Sept. 30 on beaches where piping plovers or least terns are present or have traditionally nested.

The proposed ordinance names Kinney Shores, Bayview Beach and Camp Ellis Beach as places where leashes, no longer than 12 feet long, will be required for dogs between April 1 and Sept. 30.

The proposal spells out that whenever a portion of a beach has been roped or fenced  off,  or otherwise posted as an area to protect the nesting site of a piping plover or of any other endangered species protected under federal law, dogs wouldl be banned from coming within  100 feet of the area.

Dogs wou;d be required to be leashed while entering or exiting vehicles and the beach.

The proposed amended ordinance restricts dogs from being on sports fields and playing fields and lays out the locations of each field, Archer said.

The proposal also requires that all dogs be leashed when on public land within the city of Saco, except for the dog park located on School Street.

Dogs are not allowed to enter the property of another after being warned by the property owner or by the Animal Control Officer.

Dogs must be licensed and display a rabies vaccination tag.

Owners are required to clean up after their pets.

Owners of dogs that howl, bark, or make other sounds common to the species recurring for 10 minutes or more in each hour are subject to fines. The provision does not apply if the animal is on its own property and provoked by trespassers, according to the proposal.

Violators are subject to a minimum fine of $50 and a maximum of $100 for a first offense; $100 to $250 for a second offense, and $250 to $500 for a third offense or greater for noise violations or animal waste violations, according to the proposed ordinance. For violations of other parts of the proposed ordinance, fines range from $150 to $500, plus costs.

Some councilors had questions at the first reading, including the need for more clarity of some of the provisions and about service dogs, which are not specifically addressed in the proposal.

The council unanimously agreed to move the proposal on to a public hearing, set for Feb. 1.

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