2014-05-09 / Front Page

Tighter leash laws sought

Town wants to enforce existing ordinance before proposing amendments
By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNKPORT — The Goose Rocks Beach Advisory Committee has urged the board of selectmen to increase restrictions of dogs on the west end of the beach this summer, particularly where piping plovers tend to nest for the warmer months. This decision came in the wake of recent piping plover issues on Scarborough’s beaches.

The board of selectmen deferred and, instead, decided to explore the existing ordinance in the fall.

“We have a commitment to the town to increase the enforcement of the existing dog ordinance which requires, amongst other things, dogs to be on leashes,” said committee Chairman Bob Sherman at the May 1 meeting.

Laurie Smith said the board of selectmen decided to wait and see how Scarborough’s ordinance plays out this season before any more restrictive amendments are made to the town’s dog ordinance.

Smith said the amendments could include “either limiting it (dogs) to certain portions of the beach, or there was discussion of limiting it so that dogs couldn’t be within 150 feet, 300 feet (of the nesting plovers); there were different discussions with plover nests.”

Meanwhile Smith and Police Chief Craig Sanford have explored ways in which to enforce regulations without amending the ordinance (through increased patrol).

Vice Chairman Richard Driver asked, “Do you understand the situation that the town is in? What transpired in Scarborough with the killing of a plover, the federal fines are substantial — up to $25,000, I believe — so looking at that, what’s the town supposed to do?”

The town’s dog ordinance, in effect since 1976, requires dogs to be leashed at all times in designated zones. The fee for a violation is $25.

The enforcement initiative began April 11, said Sanford. “Since that time we’ve conducted 106 checks. We’ve issued 13 warn- ings to nonresidents. And we’ve issued 11 warnings to residents of Kennebunkport, so far.”

People reacted with mixed emotions, Sanford said. “Some people would comment that it was stupid. One lady told me that her dog was swimming in the water and that it was a safety hazard for it to be on a leash. Some people have said that they were aware of it and wouldn’t do it again. So, it has been a mixed bag,” Sanford said.

“The town has certain considerations that if something did happen and we weren’t enforcing the ordinance, that’s an issue for the town, as well,” Smith said.

Said Kennebunkport resident Bob Kimber, “Does that mean any place in Kennebunkport, the dog must be on a leash?

“Could someone explain to me, I have a dog that likes to run, and that dog is 120 percent under my voice control: I call him, he comes to me, he goes and gets the ball and comes back. Where in the town of Kennebunkport can I exercise my dog?”

Sanford read from the part of the ordinance that covers zones dogs can be unleashed: “’It shall be unlawful for any person owning, keeping or harboring a dog license or license, to allow it to run, unleashed in the village residential, the village riverfront, the village dock square, Cape Arundel, Goose Rocks, Cape Porpoise west, Cape Porpoise east, and Cape Porpoise square zones.’”

A number of local land trust areas and preserves still allow dogs to be off leash.

“It just boggles my mind that Kennebunkport is now a dog-free zone,” Kimber said. “You can’t have a dog and exercise it in Kennebunkport. That doesn’t sit well.”

Smith reminded Kimber that the dog ordinance is not new.

“There are a lot of ordinances that aren’t strictly enforced,” Smith said. “I understand that there are dogs on the beach that will run up to people and jump on people and do everything. Those dogs, yes absolutely on a leash. But to make a blanket statement that, yes, every dog must be on a leash.”

“My dog is fully under control. I don’t go near the plover areas especially during plover time,” Kimber said.

Committee member Kate Nixon asked Kimber, “How would the town work this on a case-by-case basis? Dogs are dogs, and most dogs are not under voice control, even if their owners say they are.”

Resident Mick Harris asked whether a test could be conducted to discern whether a dog could be controlled by voice control alone.

“I believe that many of us could demonstrate voice control on our dogs, and if we can do that, then that’s something that should be pursued,” said Harris. “My question to the group was, is this an issue that we should take up with our selectmen? I think the final answer to that is yes. If there was a way to work this out, I’d like to explore it.”

Said Driver, “I don’t think there’s anyone on this board that isn’t a dog lover. The question is, how do we resolve it? We’d all like to have elimination of speeding limits and we can all say we drive safely. We know that wouldn’t work. It’s the same things in terms of the dogs.”

Sherman encouraged the public to reach out because “we’re looking for better solutions.”

The police department, Sanford said, will hire summer employees to check on the beach and the plover nesting areas throughout the day.

“From 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., there’s going to be somebody on the beach looking at parking enforcement, safety issues, things of that nature, continuing on with what we normally do in our course of business,” Sanford said.

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