New summer hours for dogs on South Portland's Willard Beach take effect May 1

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SOUTH PORTLAND — On Friday, May 1, the new summer restrictions for dogs on Willard Beach go into effect.

Those restrictions have changed from previous summers when dogs were allowed to run off-leash between 6 a.m and 9 a.m.

From May 1  to Sept. 30, off-leash access for dogs will be allowed from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. As always, owners are required to clean up after their dogs.  

Although dogs are effectively permitted to run off-leash for an extra hour each day, the city has tightened the leash in several other areas. Dogs must be leashed when not on the beach and owners must a carry a leash with them even during off-leash hours at the beach. 

Dog owners must have their dogs under voice control and may be asked to demonstrate that control at any time by the animal control officer, who may issue summonses with fines ranging from $100 for the first offense.

A second offense, to either the voice control or any other portion of the ordinance, would result in a $250 fine and the owner would be required to leash the dogs at all times on the beach. A third offense could result in a $500 fine and the dog and owner would be banned from the beach.

Also, unleashed dogs cannot pass within 10 feet of another beach-goer without first getting explicit consent. 

Crystal Goodrich, president of the South Portland Dog Owners Group, said the group has been conducting its own education efforts without the city’s help, including handing out fliers to dog owners in an attempt to increase awareness of the new regulations. The group also plans a repeat seminar on canine body language by Elsa Larsen, a resident and owner of My Wonderful Dog, on May 18. 

Many South Portland residents are well aware of the new regulations after witnessing many contentious meetings on the matter. However, it appears news of Willard’s new rules has been slow to reach dog owners from greater Portland.

Dog owner Gail Antos, a Freeport resident who was walking her dog on Willard Beach last week, said she was not aware of the changes in the dog rules. Lee Crosson and Bethany Moran, of Portland, had heard that the rules
were changing but were unsure what those changes were and when they
were going into effect.

Laurie O’Neil and Joan Dailey, who said they were from greater Portland, said they weren’t aware of the new regulations either. 

“I know there’s a sign for the vegetation, but I didn’t see one for dogs,” O’Neil said.

Although there are signs outlining the old regulations, a task force that spent months studying dogs on the beach recommended placing simpler, easier to read signs at the beach entry ways. Those signs, however, will not be installed until Thursday, the day before the regulations take effect.

Goodrich said she had hoped the signs would have been put up at least a month in advance of the new hours. Such short notice, she said, may cause confusion among dog owners. 

“We are concerned the signs have not been put up,” she said. “If people don’t know what the new hours are, members of our group are concerned there will be lots of calls to the police about people on the beach outside of hours they are allowed with their dogs.”

ACO Corey Hamilton said that while DOG has been conducting outreach, it is ultimately the dog owners’ responsibility to know the new laws before bringing their dogs to the beach. Hamilton, who patrols the beach four to five times a day, said owners have been cooperative when asked to show voice control over their dogs. 

“So far, I have not had a problem with this,” said Hamilton, indicating he has seen no negative interactions between dog owners and non-dog owners. 

Meanwhile, a group of residents is spearheading an effort to completely ban dogs from the beach. Organizer Gary Crosby said the Save Willard Beach group has collected more than 500 signatures towards the 930 needed to place a referendum question on the November ballot banning dogs from the beach.

Crosby thinks the addition of evening hours will ultimately help the group’s cause, because families like to have evening picnics on the beach.

“People are irresponsible with their pets,” Crosby said. “If you’re having a picnic down on the beach, having loose dogs running around isn’t going to help the issue.”   

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or