There are serious problems with administration of the public parks in South Portland. I was content to engage with the City Council over this at their Oct. 12 meeting, but Monday’s Maine Voices column (“South Portland should not shut out the dogs”) has prompted me to add my own voice to this forum.

Desmond Predick, 3, emerges from the water with his mother, Jenny Predick, and brother David in July at Willard Beach in South Portland. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Willard Beach is easy to see from many vantage points when walking in its vicinity. Here are some of the things I have seen: In March, two women had three young children camped up on the sand. The older two were running back and forth to the water. A group of unleashed dogs walked around and through the group, forcing the older children to run to the adults. The adults leaped to their feet and gathered up the children.

In April, a young mother was on the beach with a child who appeared to be under 2. She was showing him how to build a structure with sticks in the sand. Three dogs ran from the water’s edge, circled around them, touching them and walked between them, trampling the structure. As they left, the last dog urinated on the ruined structure. Also in April, a young man stood at the entrance to the beach, expressing anger and frustration that he could not take his two children, sitting in a stroller, onto the beach because of the swarms of running dogs.

In June at 7 p.m., when dogs can re-enter the beach during summer hours, I saw four children have to defend their sand castle against dogs who pushed through their group. Five dogs, owned by five different people, walked over the sand castle and urinated on it. When a very large dog stood over the castle and would not move, the children tried to push it away. The owner of the dog, who was far up the beach, ran back and screamed at the children for picking on his dog.

I personally have been jumped on three times by large dogs on Willard Beach this year. Last weekend, I heard from someone who had this to say about an event she had just observed: “At one point, a dog who was running with two other dogs slammed into the woman who was walking ahead of me (with her husband, son and dog). The owner apologized and asked if she was OK several times. She said it would probably just be a bruise.” Many people in South Portland would love to exercise at Willard Beach but are afraid to go there. Unfortunately, they are wise not to go.

Over and over again in the Willard Beach neighborhood, I speak with neighbors who say that 12 years ago, when there was a referendum on whether dogs could be on the beach, they voted in favor of the dogs. Now, they tell me, they would vote the other way. As one of them said to me, “We had no idea it would be like this.”

I have tried to speak with advocates for free-roaming dogs and have suggested year-round dog hours as a solution. I was told “No,” they would not agree to that. It is encouraging that the author of the recent Maine Voices is also recommending year-round dog hours. In contrast, many of the advocates for free-roaming dogs do not admit that there is a problem and respond with minimal cooperation and only when threatened with city action.

City parks and dog parks are different things. City parks are a place where everyone can go without fear of harassment or injury. Dog parks are places where dogs can run, but it is best for children not to play there, and it is a good idea for older people not to walk there. You cannot take a quiet walk in a dog park. The city parks in South Portland are being used by a large number of residents of the Portland region as dog parks. It is unfair to everyone else.

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