SCARBOROUGH — In the three weeks since the Town Council authorized new restrictions on off-leash time for dogs on beaches, and with the unofficial start of the tourist season last weekend, town officials are looking at enforcement of the new rules with cautious optimism.
Despite local dog owners’ active opposition throughout the ordinance amendment process, the May 27 deadline for petitions to overturn the new dog leash restrictions came and went without so much as a yelp.
Now the town hopes to move past the hotly debated issue, and move forward with the amended dog leash laws’ implementation.
“This season is going to be a learning experience for us all,” Town Manager Tom Hall said.
The town started revising its animal control ordinance after an off-leash dog killed an endangered piping plover last summer and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service served the town with a suggested $12,000 fine.
After a town-wide ban on off-leash dogs was shot down in a December referendum, the council, assisted by an ad hoc committee, amended the restrictions for dogs on beaches at its May 7 meeting.
The new restrictions, officials admitted, might be confusing, especially for people from out of town who visit the beaches.
“We’ve been living it, but there’s a lot of folks out of Scarborough who use our beaches consistently, so it’s going to take some time,” Hall said.
Marine Resources Officer Dave Corbeau has spent the past two weekends patrolling beaches, handing out fliers and giving warnings to dog owners.
The town’s approach has been “proactive” in making sure people are aware of the changes, he said, but he has also responded to several calls from residents upset that dog owners are not complying.
The grace period for following the new rules will eventually have to come to an end. Fines for noncompliance begin at $100.
“I don’t mind warning people if they don’t know the way they’re supposed to do it, but if they’re in violation and they know (the new signs) are out there, they’re going to get a summons from me,” he said.
Like Hall, Corbeau said adapting to the regulations will be “an education process,” and most people he has spoken to have been receptive to the changes.
“I mean, they may not like them, but they don’t really argue them,” he said.
Hall said Wednesday he will soon meet with representatives from the USFWS to update them on the town’s progress, and hopefully they can settle on how much the town should be fined for last year’s bird death.
The town’s new restrictions fall short of the changes the USFWS requested, which would have required dogs on beaches to be leashed. But Hall said he is unsure whether the new restrictions will have an impact on the settlement.
Hall said he looks forward to the opportunity to showcase the town’s commitment to protecting plovers, which now includes a piping plover coordinator, and new signs on town beaches.
As with any new change, Hall said he expects to run into bumps while enforcing the new rules. But he is confident that, should anything major come up, the council can take time next year to smooth things out.
“I hope we do give this some time to gain some experience, and if there’s smoothing that’s terribly wrong with it, I hope the council is open to looking at a small portion to fix something. But so far, so good,” he said.
In the mean time, as Corbeau patrols the beaches, he hopes the new rules are successful in better protecting the plovers.
“There’s a lot at stake here for the town, for me, for the birds and for the dogs,” he said. “I’d hate to see that we’ve gone to these kind of extremes with dogs and leashes to find out we don’t have anything above and beyond what we’ve had before these restrictions.”
A piping plover nestles into some dried rockweed Sunday, May 25, at Crescent Beach State Park in Cape Elizabeth while 4-year-old Johannes Wendlen of Boston, Massachusetts, strolls past. The return of the endangered birds to area beaches is expected to test Scarborough’s new dog leash law.
New restrictions for dogs on Scarborough beaches are:
• May 15 to Labor Day: Dogs allowed off-leash, dawn-9 a.m; no dogs on any beach, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; dogs allowed on-leash, 5 p.m.-dusk.
• Labor Day to May 14: Dogs allowed off-leash, dawn-1 p.m.; dogs allowed on-leash, 1 p.m.-3 p.m.; dogs allowed off-leash, 3 p.m.-dusk.
• April 1 to Labor Day: Dogs restricted from new protected plover nesting areas on Pine Point, Higgins, Ferry and Western beaches. Signs on the beach indicate where the areas begin and end. Restrictions in protected areas for each beach vary.
• When off-leash, owners must exercise “voice and sight control” over their dogs.
More detailed information, and maps of the protected areas, are available on the town website.
— Shelby Carignan