SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council has once again changed proposed new offseason leash requirements for dogs at Willard Beach and Hinckley Park

Amended for the sixth time Tuesday night, the latest proposal would require dogs to be leashed from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at both Willard Beach and Hinckley Park from Oct. 1 through April 30, said Mayor Misha Pride.

The council has been hashing out details of the proposal since last summer. Members voted unanimously for the latest proposal, sending it to a second reading and possible final vote Nov. 4, Pride said.

The previous proposal would have required dogs to be leashed from noon to 5 p.m. at Willard Beach and from 7 a.m. to noon at Hinckley Park. Dogs may run off leash at other times when city parks are open to the public between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Existing animal control ordinances stipulate that between May 1 and Sept. 30, dogs are allowed at Willard Beach only between 7 and 9 a.m. and 7 and 9 p.m. – there are no off-season time restrictions during regular park hours. Dogs always must be leashed within Mill Creek Park and on public streets, sidewalks, parking lots and the Greenbelt Walkway. In other public spaces, including Hinckley Park and Willard Beach, dogs may be unleashed if owners have immediate voice control over their pets.

Under these rules, Willard Beach and Hinckley Park have become popular destinations for dog owners throughout Greater Portland, triggering perennial conflicts over dog waste, environmental impacts and public safety.

City officials flagged hundreds of piles of feces left throughout Hinckley Park in March 2019, raising awareness of the public health and safety issue that existed there. In July 2020, the city closed two ponds in the park that developed a toxic algae bloom from dog feces.

And in May this year, the council enacted a temporary leash law in the park through Sept. 30 after two unleashed dogs attacked and killed a resident’s cat near the park. The council also recently agreed to form the Dogs & Sharing Public Spaces Advisory Committee, which will study the issue and recommend further changes.

Dog owners opposed previous offseason leash requirements as being potentially alienating, segregating and punishing, and they questioned curbing offseason access, saying most of the chaos at Willard Beach occurs in the summer months. City officials have counted as many as 300 dogs on Willard Beach during summer morning hours.

Other residents sought greater offseason restrictions so they could visit the two popular dog walking sites without fear of getting run down or jumped on by uncontrolled off-leash dogs. Some said that even in the colder months, people avoid Willard Beach and Hinckley Park because most dogs are unleashed.

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