Willard Beach is a popular destination for dogs and their owners. Drew Johnson

After months of debate among the South Portland City Council and the public, the council Nov. 4 decided that dogs must be leashed at Willard Beach and Hinckley Park from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Oct. 1 to April 30.

The new rules go into effect on Nov. 25. The decision was part of six amendments to town rules.

“We’ve heard all sorts of comments,” Councilor April Caricchio said at the Nov. 4 meeting. “I feel very strongly that all of my fellow councilors and I have worked very hard to do the best we can do … (W)e really gave it our all.”

Off-leash restrictions first arose this spring when the council addressed issues with erosion around Hinckley Park’s central pond that were linked, in part, to dog waste. The council was considering temporary restrictions when two off-leash dogs attacked and killed a neighbor’s cat at Hinckley Park in April.

The council passed a temporary ordinance June 14  requiring that dogs be leashed for all hours of the day at the park. The temporary rule  expired Oct. 1.

With the temporary restrictions at Hinckley Park, many dog owners flocked to Willard Beach, where complaints came in about bad dog behavior, such as knocking over and urinating on sandcastles and approaching and jumping on non-consenting beachgoers. Dog owners and others argued that those were isolated incidents, that most dogs are well-behaved and most owners are responsible.

This fall, the council debated options suggested by residents, ranging from banning dogs at Willard and Hinckley to allowing dogs to run off-leash all day.

However, it wasn’t the first time the idea of banning dogs from Willard had been proposed by residents.

A 2009 city referendum prohibiting dogs at the beach from April 15 and Oct. 15  was defeated by 60% of voters.

Over a decade later, months of public feedback saw the council ponder a number of options. While outright banning dogs was never seriously considered, various leash restrictions, such as requiring non-residents to keep their dogs leashed at all times in the city and instituting every-other day leash requirements at Hinckley and Willard, were proposed.

Ultimately, the Council settled upon the 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on-leash rule.

Other restrictions include:

  • Those handling three or more dogs at once must keep those dogs leashed at all times;
  • Dogs must remain on designated trails and open fields at Hinckley;
  • Dogs’ access to water is limited to specified entrances.

“I’m happy, and it seems like we got to a compromise,” said Councilor Jocelyn Leighton at the Nov. 4 meeting. “I’m very excited about this dog committee to then do the next part of the work.”

The council also created an ad-hoc Dogs & Sharing of Public Spaces Committee. The committee, whose purpose is to present the council with recommendations on how to find a permanent solution to the dog issue, includes two members of the vocal SoPo Dog Owners Group. Linden Thigpen and Ellen Clancy were selected by the council to represent that group on the committee.

Residents Diane Gotelli and John Murphy are also serving, as are the Parks & Rec Director and Animal Control Officer. Kristina Ertzner, a former South Portland park ranger and current Conservation Manager, will also serve.

Councilors urged residents to continue giving their input to the committee.

“I really hope that people who have been involved stay involved,” Councilor Susan Henderson said. “This is critical work that’s going to happen.”

Comments are not available on this story.