The South Portland City Council is ready to put an end to meetings largely dominated by debate between concerned Willard Beach-goers and local dog owners – at least for now.

Councilors gave preliminary approval Tuesday, 5-0, to a slew of amendments to the city’s dog rules. Mayor Deqa Dhalac was absent. The final vote is scheduled for May 17.

“We all want to make everyone happy,” said Councilor Misha Pride. “I don’t think that’s going to happen here.”

The amendments place a number of restrictions on dogs and their owners in the city’s public spaces, including prohibiting dogs from athletic fields, fenced-in playgrounds and school yards, and requiring dog owners to pick up and properly dispose of their dog’s waste.

The most contentious restriction sets on-leash and off-leash hours at Willard Beach. If it receives final approval, dogs must be leashed at Willard Beach from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. from Oct. 1 through April 30, and are prohibited from the beach from May 1 to Sept. 30 except from 7 to 9 a.m. and 7 to 9 p.m.

Willard Beach leash time was the only item that could not be agreed upon by the citizen-driven Dogs and Sharing Public Spaces advisory committee, which was formed in November to review city dog rules and suggest how the council could settle the beach debate.


This debate among residents has resulted in hours upon hours of public comment at council meetings and a half-dozen tweaks to proposed amendments by the council and was also the main catalyst for the formation of the dog committee.

The beach restrictions to be approved are not new, with the October through April hours being temporarily adopted this past winter, and the May through September hours remaining as they were last summer.

However, beachgoers and dog owners continued their back-and-forth late into Tuesday evening, seeming to lose the few yards of middle ground they were able to find throughout the months of debate.

“I strongly urge you to consider that dogs be leashed all the time, especially (with) our most precious resource being Willard Beach,” said resident Mary Norton, who claimed the beach is being used as a dog park.

Some dog owners felt that they have already compromised enough, with the winter leash restrictions being brand new this year and dogs only being allotted four hours of beach time per day in the summer.

“I just find it infuriating that we, us off-leash dog owners, have gone over and above to try and be considerate,” said Barb Everett. “We’ve given up five hours in the winter and it’s not enough. We have four hours in the summer, they have 11, and it’s not enough. I don’t understand why that isn’t sharing.”


Since August, concerned beachgoers have consistently offered their experiences at Willard Beach to the council, including dogs jumping on them, knocking them down or urinating on their belongings. Some dog owners have refuted these claims, saying they have never witnessed anything like that and if incidents like that do occur, it is a rarity.

“If you haven’t witnessed it, it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” said Councilor Jocelyn Leighton at Tuesday’s meeting. “If somebody is coming to the table and saying ‘hey, I had trouble at the beach and I got knocked down by a dog,’ are we going to imagine that they’re coming to this council meeting and lying to the entire city of South Portland, talking about their experience like it didn’t happen?”

Other items in the ordinance require dogs to be on leash at Hinckley Park from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. year-round, prohibit dogs and owners from crossing city sand dunes, and require that a dog that acts aggressively toward people or other dogs and does not consistently come immediately upon command must be leashed when not on private premises.

Councilors acknowledged that there are likely more tweaks to come.

“If this was an easy fix, it would have been fixed a long time ago,” said Councilor Linda Cohen. “Is this going to need to be tweaked again in the future? No doubt, just like any other ordinance that we have.”

Noting that the changes are likely to be imperfect, councilors suggested that the Parks & Rec Department report back to the council late this summer on what impact the amendments have made.

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