SOUTH PORTLAND — A petition drive is currently underway to stop the new South Portland dog ordinance from going into place.  

By city charter, petitioners have 20 days (about three weeks) to get signatures from 5 percent of the electorate to block the ordinance. They are reportedly about halfway to that total.   

“This whole process by city council has been flawed from the start,” said resident, Steve Silver. “The ordinance is a solution in search of a problem, and the city council did none of the basic research to even know what the problem is.

“How can you claim this ordinance addressed overcrowding when you never conducted a survey to determine the number of dogs at Willard or Hinckley and what days and times are the most popular? That should have been step one. The final straw for me was the 11th-hour amendment to strip an hour of off-leash time on Willard Beach, thereby forcing anyone who works full-time and can’t get there in the morning to have to go in the dark.”  

Michael Schwartz, a South Portland resident who has been leading the petition effort known as “The Power of Referendum” concerning Ordinance(s) No. 20-21/22. He created the “Power of Referendum” petition because he believes that the procedures used by the South Portland City Council are “profoundly and structurally flawed” and led them to reach this imperfect “compromise.”

A petition drive is currently underway to stop the new South Portland dog ordinance from going into place.   Shawn Patrick Ouellette photo/Press Herald

Schwartz wanted it made clear that he is not an off-leash fundamentalist nor an on-leash absolutist. He said he believes that people who cannot control their dog’s behavior should not allow their dogs to come and go as they please. Schwartz said he also believes that the council should foster an environment and create conditions for discussion that would promote respect and responsibility. Schwartz said that he had invited councilors to come to walk the beach with him so they could see what it is like at the beach when people are walking their dogs. He said many people go down there to meet others and talk while their dogs play.  


“Community requires common ground, it requires reaching out, it requires debate and civil conversation rather than arguments blame and vitriol,” said Schwartz. “So, community requires good will an open mind to consider another point of view.”

“The large issue in the community and coming forward to create a much better solution for everyone,” said Schwartz. Most unfortunate, their efforts over the past 14 months have only served to divide citizens, promote hostility and incivility, and lay the foundation for the further Balkanization of the citizens of South Portland. “It is my wish, by starting this petition, that the city council will pause, take a moment of personal introspection, and reflect upon the policies, processes, and mistakes that were made that, after so many months of work, hours of time, and money spent, have led to such a poorly received result. And, moving forward, I sincerely hope they will restructure their methodology so that something like this is much less likely to happen in the future.”  

Silver said he found it quite shocking when the city councilors spent months claiming they were passing this ordinance for safety, but then completely dismissed the numerous women who expressed their fear of going to Willard alone in the dark due to Councilor Leighton’s amendment.  

Many women voiced their issues with the times and stated that being a woman, they did not feel comfortable on the beach alone from 8 to 9 p.m. due to it getting dark around 8:30 p.m. One woman expressed concern for her safety after having an incident happen at another land preservation and said once the sun goes down, she is off the beach. Many women have said that work makes it hard to make it to the beach before the sun goes down.   

“The limiting summer evening hours for off-leash walking only between 8 to 9 p.m. upsets me,” said resident, Lisa Badger. “It is mostly dark then, and some evenings get cold. Work prevents me from walking in the mornings, and some evenings are primarily my only option. I usually walk off-leash with my dog on Willard between 7 to 8:15 p.m. Once Willard starts getting dark, I want to be off the beach for my safety. I had an incident at another land preservation last fall as it was getting dark, which has forced me to change my behavior as darkness descends while walking my dog.”   

On June 14, South Portland City Council passed an amendment to the city’s dog laws. The council voted on amending Chapter 3, “Animals and Fowl,” and Chapter 18, “Parks and Recreation,” regarding dogs and open spaces. The council amended and passed the first reading on May 3 and May 17. The motion passed after a lengthy community discussion where numerous South Portland residents voiced concerns about when dogs were permitted at Willard Beach. Residents talked about their problems with the city’s new dog laws.  


The amendment includes approximately 20 additions and adjustments. They allow dogs on the beach from 7 to 9 a.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. The rules run from May 1 through Sept. 30. However, from 7 to 8 p.m., dogs must be on a leash.  

Dogs will be allowed at Willard Beach all day from Oct. 1 through April 30 but must be leashed from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dogs at Hinckley Park must be leashed from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. year-round.  

Dogs are also prohibited from athletic fields and fenced-in-playgrounds. Owners are required to pick up and properly dispose of their dog’s waste and prohibit dogs and owners from crossing city sand dunes. They require that a dog that acts aggressively toward people or other dogs and does not consistently come when commanded must be leashed when not on private premises.  

“I believe that all of the city of South Portland is for everyone: From Hinckley Park to Willard Beach to the Greenbelt to the Wainwright Complex to Bug Light,” Schwartz said. “I believe that we are a strong and sharing community and benefit through talking, meeting, gathering, and listening to one another. This is about finding out what we all have in common and how we can work to make this place that we all love better for all of us.”

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