After a 3½-hour discussion with dozens of residents about dogs Tuesday, the South Portland City Council voted to remove from its proposed leash ordinance an “anti-neighborly” provision that would require nonresidents’ dogs to be leashed on all city property.

The council will vote Sept. 21 on the revised ordinance, which allows all dogs to be off-leash at Hinckley Park as of Oct. 1. If approved, it will end the temporary leash requirement at the park that took effect June 14 after two unleashed dogs attacked and killed a resident’s cat near the park in April.

South Portland is expected to end its leash law at Hinckley Park on Oct. 1. Forecaster photo

The proposed ordinance also requires dogs to stay on trails or in open fields while at the park off Highland Avenue and limits dogs’ access to the park’s two ponds. Throughout the city, it requires anyone handling three or more dogs at a time to have them on-leash while on city property and requires that unleashed dogs be under sight control at all times.

The city’s current ordinance does address sight control and requires only that dog owners have a leash in hand when their dog is unleashed.

Dozens of residents phoned into the council meeting Tuesday to argue their case for or against the proposed ordinance, with arguments ranging from an outright ban on dogs at Hinckley Park to allowing them to be off-leash during all hours of the day. All, however, seemed to agree on one thing: the nonresident dog provision that was eventually struck from the ordinance did nothing to fix the issue. In addition, many said it would be unenforceable.

“Walking up and checking every dog off leash isn’t really feasible for us,” said Park Ranger Kristina Ertzner. “We’d just have to be waiting for somebody to make a mistake and then talk to that person.”

Many residents also argued that the provision is anti-neighborly.

“The way (the provision) reads, it doesn’t seem like South Portland wants to play with its neighbors,” Patricia Smith said.

Nonresidents at the meeting also interpreted it as anti-neighborly.

“I would hate to see Portland pass something like this,” said Tom Ezquerro, of Portland, who frequently visits South Portland’s public spaces with his dog. “(The ordinance) is not really embracing the main ideals of enjoying our open spaces, with or without pet companions.”

The nonresident dog provision came to fruition at an Aug. 24 council meeting, although councilors discussed the potential of allowing nonresidents to pay a fee in order to gain off-leash privileges, according to the minutes of that meeting.

Shannon Weld, of Portland, left, and Jean Weld, of Bath, walk their 5-year-old Belgian Tervurens, Lila and Annie, through Hinckley Park in South Portland in May. FILE

Residents also brought up other dog issues during Tuesday’s discussion, especially those pertaining to Willard Beach, where many dog owners said they have been taking their dogs this summer in light of the on-leash requirement at Hinckley Park. The allowance of dogs at Willard Beach has long been a source of contention in the city.

From May 1 to Sept. 30, dogs are permitted at Willard Beach from 7-9 a.m. and 7-9 p.m. From Oct. 1 to April 30, dogs are permitted from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Hinckley Park ponds would have designated access points for dogs under a new ordinance. Forecaster photo

“I don’t think that public beaches or public parks are places for dogs,” said Mary Norton of Breakwater Drive. “If my grandchildren were to visit me, Willard Beach is not where I would go … with dogs urinating and pooping on the beach.”

“Often I just don’t feel like we can safely take our kids to Willard Beach,” said Anna Chornyak of Surfsite Road. “I’ve often been at the playground … but have stopped going because I’ve had dogs run up to my kids and scare them. They’re traumatized now.”

Steve Silver of Pine Street said dogs should be allowed on the beach.

“There’s really only four hours (a day) in the summer months where the dogs can be there,” Silver said.  “(People) have other options. There are not other options for the dogs.”

He suggested that “a better fence” around the playground at the beach would help keep children safe from unwanted approaches by dogs.

“That would be a really simple solution,” he said.

Another big concern of residents, council members and city staff is the resources dedicated to the dog issue.

“When the park ranger position started, it was more environmental and educational for dog owners,” Ertzner said. “All I do now is go from park to park and talk to people about dogs.”

“That includes her seasonal rangers as well,” added Parks & Recreation Director Karl Coughlin. “Right now we’re dedicating about 120 hours a week to dogs and dog issues.”

Many residents, such as Jon Platt of Mitchell Road, see a dog park as an easy fix.

“A dog park just resolves the whole thing,” said Platt. “Then you don’t have to have city resources being put towards this, and having this kind of divide going on.”

The council agreed to create an ad hoc committee to work on residents’ concerns.

While dog issues have been getting a lot of attention in recent months, the complaints are not new.

“This isn’t an issue that just kind of cropped up this summer,” said City Manager Scott Morelli. “I’ve been here for 4½ years now … dogs are probably right up there with the top three things I hear complaints for.”

 

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