Cape Elizabeth Land Trust sets leash rule for dogs in Robinson Woods

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Following reports of several attacks by unleashed dogs in Robinson Woods, the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust has implemented a leash law in the preserve.

The rule, which requires dogs to be leashed daily after 9 a.m., went into effect Dec. 1. Dogs are still allowed off leash from sunrise to 9 a.m.

CELT Executive Director Christopher Franklin said safety is the primary reason behind the change.

“The recent incidents included people being chased, harassed and bitten by off-leash dogs,” Franklin said. “The severity of some of the recent incidents in addition to the ongoing issues and concerns related to off-leash dogs prompted our response.”

Franklin said that while many people who let their dogs off leash have “voice control” and can call their dogs back to them, there have been exceptions at Robinson Woods. He said some people lack control over their dogs and can’t keep them from disturbing others.

“Having an unaccompanied dog bounding toward you and/or your children can be very intimidating and disturbing, and being jumped on can be equally disturbing, even if the dog is ‘only being friendly,'” he said.

Franklin said he knows not every dog owner has a dog that can’t be controlled and that many people are responsible pet owners. He said he knows these people are discouraged by the new rule, but that it is necessary.

“While CELT appreciates the fact that these friends and neighbors care deeply about the property and cherish their time there with their four-legged companions, it does not change the fact that there are those who are abusing the privilege of access to the property and have created the situation we are now trying to remedy,” Franklin said.

Franklin said another reason for the new leash rule is the increasing amount of dog waste found on and off the trails.

“Dog waste has been, and continues to be, a major concern at the property,” he said. “Even last week, two weeks after these new regulations went into effect, CELT’s board president picked up 20 bags of dog waste in one hour on a small segment of trails, almost all of which had been deposited within 24 hours.”

Franklin said this was apparent because the waste was on fresh snow.

Another reason for the leash law is the effect dogs have on the environment. Franklin said off-leash dogs are “more likely to chase wildlife and disturb sensitive natural habitats, especially vernal pools.”

It was an overcast and cold Sunday afternoon in Robinson Woods, a 145-acre preserve along Shore Road, when some dog walkers became aware of the new leash law.

Portland residents Peter Floeckher and Sarah Maxner were out walking Tanner, a 9-year-old Swiss mountain dog who was unleashed. Floeckher and Maxner said they were unaware of the rule change, but were disappointed to learn about it.

“Being able to walk Tanner off the leash is one of the reasons we come here,” Floeckher said. 

“There aren’t a lot of other options in the area,” Maxner added.

The couple said they might opt for other off-leash destinations now that the rule has changed. Willard Beach in South Portland, Higgins Beach in Scarborough, and East End in Portland are possibilities, they said, although all of those have daily or seasonal restrictions.

South Portland resident Fiona Russell said she often walks her 3-year-old beagle mix (coincidentally named Russell) in Robinson Woods. Originally, she came to the trail system specifically because dogs were allowed off leash. Now that the rule has changed, however, she will continue to visit the property with Russell. 

“It’s fine with me,” she said. “I respect the decision.”

Franklin said he’s aware that not everyone feels this way. CELT will be hosting community meetings on Jan. 20 and 22, 2015, at Cape Elizabeth Community Services so people can talk about the use of Robinson Woods.

CELT purchased the first 82 acres of Robinson Woods in 2003. Another 63 acres were added in 2012.

“While not all users agree with the recent decision to limit hours for off-leash use, there is one thing we all agree on, and that is that the Robinson Woods properties are exceptionally beautiful and widely loved by the community,” Franklin said. “From this point of agreement we are hopeful that a collaborative approach to managing the property can be achieved.”

Ben McCanna contributed to this story. Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

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South Portland resident Fiona Russell walks through Robinson Woods in Cape Elizabeth on Sunday, Dec. 21, with her 3-year-old beagle mix (who, coincidentally, is also named Russell). Russell said she doesn’t mind the new rule that requires dogs to be leashed in the woods.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.