Report offers snapshot of dog violations at South Portland's Willard Beach

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The majority of dog owners contacted by police volunteers at Willard Beach over a two-month period last summer were not in compliance with – and claimed ignorance of – the city’s leash laws.

Recommendations to stem the number of violations include increasing the size and number of signs along the beach and allowing volunteers to collect personal information from offenders, who may receive summonses later from the animal control officer. 

The findings are contained in a November report released by the Police Department, which used trained volunteers to conduct more that two dozen evening patrols in August and September.

Police equipped five citizen members of the first Volunteers in Policing Service program with radios and information packets about the city’s dog laws.

When violations were observed, the volunteers attempted to give the dog owners fliers explaining the ordinance.

The ordinance allows dogs to be on the beach from 7-9 a.m. and 7-9 p.m. from May 1 through Sept. 30. Dogs are allowed on the beach all day from October through April. Dogs are allowed to run off leash, as long as the owner has strict voice control over their pet. Dog waste must be picked up.

Officer Linda Barker, who coordinates volunteers, said VIPS members had no authority to issue citations.

According to the report, the group, working in pairs, conducted 12 patrols in August and 19 patrols in September. A total of 113 violations were noted, but only seven people reportedly refused to comply with the law when it was explained to them.

“The majority of the violations were being on the beach in violation of the legal times,” Barker said via e-mail. “A very small number were dogs not on leash/voice control and not picking up their dog waste.”

In August, volunteers observed 37 dogs, 30 of which were not in compliance with the city ordinance. Eighteen owners claimed not to know the rules and 25 fliers were distributed. Thirty-three owners complied with the rules after they were told, while two did not.

In September, volunteers observed 90 dogs, 83 of which were out of compliance. Thirty-four fliers were distributed, and 75 owners claimed ignorance of the ordinance. Seventy-three people complied with the rules once contacted, while five did not.

Meanwhile, volunteers confirmed that 40 dog owners were residents of South Portland, 40 were not residents and 47 people could not be identified.

Crystal Goodrich, president of the South Portland Dog Owners Association, said she found portions of the report confusing, but was pleased to know that no one was injured by dogs, as some people claimed when trying to ban dogs from the beach last year.

Whether dogs have a place on Willard Beach has been a continuing issue in South Portland. It came to a head in 2009, but voters overwhelming rejected a citizen referendum aimed at banning dogs from the beach during the summer and eliminating off-leash access during other seasons.

“It’s good to know there weren’t severe violations,” Goodrich said. “People weren’t getting hurt or some of the other complaints we have heard in the past.”

The data analysis and written report were conducted by two students from St. Joseph’s College in Standish who were performing their service-learning programs in South Portland.

The report, which does not specify the types of violations, offers five recommendations:

• Increase the number and size of signs and clarify instructions.

• Attach dog laws to annual dog license renewals or tax bills.

• Create a public service announcement for cable TV.

• Expand hours of VIPS patrols.

• And allow VIPS to collect identifying information for violators.

Goodrich said her group supports the recommendations in the report, especially the calls for bigger signs and increasing enforcement.

“I was disappointed to not see any fines,” Goodrich said. “Because that spreads the news and people will be less likely to violate the rules. That’s what we’ve always believed.”

City Manager Jim Gailey said it would be up to the Police Department to implement the recommendations as it sees fit. 

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net

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