After nearly four months of oftentimes contentious meetings, the South Portland’s Dogs & Public Spaces Advisory Committee will present its recommendations to the City Council Tuesday without a solution for dogs on Willard Beach.

“The committee is not coming to a definite conclusion about Willard Beach,” said Ellen Clancy, a member of the advisory committee and a moderator of the South Portland Dog Owners group. “It seems like it’s kicking the can down the road, like a hung jury.”

One significant recommendation the committee will make, however, is to end all leash restrictions at Hinckley Park as long as dogs are under sight and voice control and do not venture off trail. Members also agreed a dog park would be beneficial for South Portland, in that it would “take away some of the crowds and give people a choice,” Clancy said.

The committee, made up of both dog owners and residents concerned about bad dog behavior in public places, was created in November following months of City Council and resident debate over leash restrictions at Willard Beach and Hinckley Park. New rules that went into effect last November require dogs to be on leash at the two locations between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. from Oct. 1 to April 30.

Some of the meetings were “stressful and contentious” according to Diane Gotelli, a member of the committee representing concerned residents.

Linda Thigpen, a member of the committee and the dog owners group, agreed.


“It was sort of set up in a ‘you versus them’,” Thigpen said. “I must say, I found this a very difficult committee to be on.”

Both sides agree that Willard Beach can get overcrowded with dogs at times, but they can’t agree on what should be done about it.

Gotelli said she believes dogs at Willard Beach may have an adverse effect on wildlife and the dunes. The committee heard presentations from a shorebird biologist and a canine behavioralist, she said, and also learned from Park Ranger Kristina Ertzner about the increasing wildlife population in city parks.

Clancy believes it to be “a non-issue.”

“There’s a healthy bird population at Willard Beach,” she said. “Which indicates the birds are fine with dogs off leash.”

The committee will also recommend off-leash limits be dropped for those walking three or more dogs. Currently, those with three or more dogs are only allowed to have one of those dogs off leash. The committee recommends allowing two to be off leash.

The committee also recommends owners be required to carry waste bags when out with their dogs and that the city supply some bags at public spaces.

Ahead of the presentation at the council workshop Tuesday, SoPo Dogs is kicking off a volunteer ambassador program, Clancy said, to help create more accountability.

A link to the council workshop on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. will be available on the city’s website,

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