Fair warning: This is a love letter.

Arlo Harvell, 2, of Portland, winds up to toss a ball for the dogs, including Oso, Portland resident Ali Zoni’s cane corso, on Willard Beach in South Portland on April 19, 2019.  Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer, File

The dog-friendly community of Willard Beach is why I purchased my first home in South Portland, before COVID, abandoning friends and family so I could live by the ocean and finally adopt a dog very intentionally named Willard. (His friends call him Bill.) Everyone thought I was crazy, but you live here so you get it. We live in the best place on Earth.

Willard Beach in particular – and the support of its seasoned dog owners – is how I survived the chaotic puppy months and then the lonely COVID months. It’s not only where I’ve met my closest friends but also the love of my life – our paths crossed, quite literally, because our dogs started playing together. Who would have thought a stubborn bulldog named Izzy and a floppy hound named Bill could make such a strong (if comical looking) couple?

Each morning, I walk to Willard Beach not only so that my high-energy pup can exhaust himself with his friends but also so I can consult with fellow dog owners. This community has led me to a wonderful vet, a reliable dog sitter and a healthy, well-socialized dog. I have gleaned wisdom from strangers and laughed harder than anyone could hope to at 7 a.m. on a Monday. It is not hyperbole to say Willard Beach and the loving community there is what has kept me sane during the pandemic.

And now, during a global health crisis that has separated us from each other in too many ways, a single vote over Zoom threatens to compromise the daily haven of Willard Beach for local dog owners like myself.

On Oct. 12, the South Portland City Council will vote on whether to bar dogs from Willard Beach every other day. In anticipation of that vote, I’d like to publicly beg City Council to reconsider this hasty proposal and allow the newly formed ad hoc committee to put forth solutions based on data, not whims.

My sympathies are with my neighbors who would like to walk on the beach without having to interact with dogs. Until the ad hoc committee can dig into research and emerge with long-term solutions, wouldn’t a more reasonable approach be to share the beach on a daily basis – with designated dog hours, as we do during the busy summer months – rather than ban dogs every other day?

It’s a pandemic. Life is hard enough already. Like children, dogs thrive when they follow a routine. And, frankly, don’t we all? As the New York Times reported, COVID has created a “time blur” as so much of our regularly scheduled programming has been canceled or at least altered. I have been so immensely grateful to have Willard Beach every day since I moved here. This every-other-day proposal would only add to the COVID time blur and a broader sense of confusion. Who will enforce this policy?

The City Council’s every-other-day proposal does not solve the ongoing challenges but creates new ones as we head into another COVID winter. Daily off-leash dog hours on Willard Beach have provided a consistent reality check and critical network of support for innumerable dog owners for decades and particularly since the start of COVID. Please don’t jeopardize our routine, our social sanctuary, by exiling us every other day.

Every morning, as I walk along the water’s edge and look up at the fishing shacks while my dog trots ahead of me, I think to myself: I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to live here.

Every morning, I’m dumbfounded by the good fortune that is Willard Beach. Please let us all continue to enjoy this beautiful place daily. Together.


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