Rachel Gips of South Portland watches as her dog, Messi, left, plays with another dog while walking along at Willard Beach in South Portland. Shawn Patrick Ouellette photo/Press Herald

SOUTH PORTLAND — South Portland City Council met in mid- June with the city park rangers to follow up on the Willard Beach dog report. 

When the council passed the ordinance changes that took effect in late June, they also asked Parks and Rec for a follow-up report on “how the rules are working” later in the summer. 

This was a pre-planned update from the park rangers about enforcement of the dog ordinance and a survey on how many dogs used the beach in July (the busiest month). 

Sydney Raftery, the park ranger, presented that report at the city council meeting. Raftery concluded the presentation with notes from the rangers, which included that people coming to the beach in the middle of the day with dogs tend not to be the people who utilize dog hours; general attitudes are very good. Occasionally people have acted in unacceptable manners; 69 percent of the citations have gone to people from outside South Portland. Consistency is key when an ordinance is amended and it leads to confusion and angst. 

“What you said about the beach, that is too bad. Sixty-nine percent are people from out of town,” said a South Portland resident Russ, whose last name was unclear during the Zoom broadcast of the meeting. “I honestly, 100 percent believe that unfortunately the dynamic in some parts of South Portland has changed. I don’t know for the better.”

This report included data on how many dogs and people use the beach during the dog hours, based on the counts the rangers have been making all summer, several warnings/tickets the rangers have issued over the summer, and a discussion about dog waste and whether the rangers perceive it as an issue. 


“I am on that beach every day I can count on two hands the number of days I’ve missed over the last year and a half,” said Peggy Stewart, with SoPo Dogs. “In fact I am at Hinckley almost every day, except for now because of the algae. Like it or not, and I think you councilors can identify with this, people talk to me about the dogs all the time and so I hear lots of opinions about the dogs. There is one thing that we have general consensus on is that the rangers have done a terrific job this summer. Sydney Raftery is a lovely person but all of them are good. They have been very fair, very communicative, and I just want to thank them for that.”

Stewart went onto discuss how the word has been spread to all dog walking beach goers that if a dog isn’t beach ready they shouldn’t be out there and that voice control needs to be implemented when on the beach with a dog.

According to the Facebook group South Portland Dog Owners Group: “After the meeting, SoPo Dog plans to submit our written response to the report, which will also include many of the suggestions we have already made for improvements in signage, fencing, and other areas. Depending on the report’s conclusions, we will consider requesting that the Council revisit or tweak some of the recent ordinance changes, such as the 7 – 8 p.m. leashed hour at Willard, and the “toy rule.”

After months of public debate, the South Portland City Council passed an amendment to the city’s dog laws back on June 16 and took effect on June 27. The motion passed after a lengthy community discussion where numerous South Portland residents voiced concerns that revolved around when dogs were permitted at Willard Beach. Residents talked about their problems with the city’s new dog laws.

“I am very disappointed that we have to continually revisit this issue that is essentially a non-issue,” said resident Cynthia Rubinoff-Myers at the June 14 meeting. “Allowing our family members, our dogs to play without restraints on our only beach is not a huge problem. I really don’t understand why it has become such a huge problem, and it’s only been recently, and I am not trying to be disrespectful, but I am so very frustrated by how this has become such a big issue.”

Dogs are allowed 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. 

Councilors have yet to respond to several complaints about beach hours, according to one resident who has reached out numerous times regarding the issue. According to the data, the most hours visited by dog owners were during the evenings.

The council held three previous meetings regarding the debate between beachgoers and dog owners. On May 17, the council held a second reading and further amended the ordinance to require dogs on Willard Beach to be leashed from 7 to 8 p.m. during the summer months starting May 1 through Sept. 30. This substantive amendment necessitated another reading. At the May 3 meeting, the council considered the first reading of this ordinance. It also amended it to include a provision prohibiting unleashed dogs from chasing wildlife while correcting a few grammatical errors.

Comments are not available on this story.