Scarborough dog panel hopes to ease beach strain

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SCARBOROUGH — Although hostility between dog owners and advocates for endangered birds may continue on town beaches, members of the recently formed ad-hoc committee on canine education and enforcement hope to improve conditions on town beaches – and to diffuse tension.

In its first two meetings, the panel has started reviewing tag programs for dogs, researching the feasibility of dog parks in town, and tweaking the new piping plover beach monitoring program. 

Committee member Pammela Rovner said there is much need for improved signs on the beaches that explain the new leash laws and restricted areas.

Rovner also said the committee’s consensus is against creating a dog park, since its research indicates a park would cost between $30,000 to $50,000 to maintain. 

The Town Council created the committee in part to ease a transition to the new leash laws for dogs on beaches, which have divided outspoken dog owners and beach-goers for several months. 

The town began changing its animal control ordinance after an incident last summer, when an off-leash dog killed an endangered piping plover and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service served the town with a suggested $12,000 fine.

In January, the town formed an ad-hoc animal control committee charged with recommending changes to the leash laws. Some of that committee’s longer-term recommendations, made in April, are now up for more in-depth review by the canine committee. 

Katy Foley, unofficial leader of leash law opposition group Dog Owners of Greater Scarborough, served on the previous ad-hoc animal control committee and also sits on the current committee. 

“In general, I would say (there’s) a much more positive feeling than the previous ad-hoc committee, where every meeting felt like walking into a war zone,” Foley said. “There is still a degree of differing opinions in the group about how to approach our charge, but there is an atmosphere of mutual respect as well that was at times lacking from a few members of the previous committee.”

But Rovner, who lives on King Street near Pine Point Beach, does not expect public tension to wane.

“I think it’s still a lot of hard feelings and a lot of mistrust,” she said. “Nobody’s happy with this situation, but we have to work with what we have.”

The committee’s next meeting will be on Tuesday, July 15, at 6 p.m. at Town Hall. 

Shelby Carignan can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow her on Twitter: @shelbycarignan.