2017-05-19 / Front Page

Dog days arrive early

No changes expected to Kennebunk dog control ordinance
By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer


Nearly 150 people packed the Kennebunk Town Hall auditorium Wednesday, May 10, for a meeting of the town’s dog advisory committee, as it heard a request from Surf Lane resident Gary John Fumicello to ban dogs from Gooch’s Beach for safety and sanitary reasons. Only one of 22 speakers at the meeting supported Fumicello proposal, and the committee later voted to recommend better enforcement of existing rules over broadening the existing summertime dog ban. Fumicello has said that, barring town action, he plans to circulate a citizens’ petition to put the question to voters in November. (Duke Harrington photos) Nearly 150 people packed the Kennebunk Town Hall auditorium Wednesday, May 10, for a meeting of the town’s dog advisory committee, as it heard a request from Surf Lane resident Gary John Fumicello to ban dogs from Gooch’s Beach for safety and sanitary reasons. Only one of 22 speakers at the meeting supported Fumicello proposal, and the committee later voted to recommend better enforcement of existing rules over broadening the existing summertime dog ban. Fumicello has said that, barring town action, he plans to circulate a citizens’ petition to put the question to voters in November. (Duke Harrington photos) KENNEBUNK — A proposal to ban dogs from Gooch’s Beach in Kennebunk drew little support this past week, when nearly 150 residents gathered in the town hall auditorium.

Of 22 people who spoke during 90 minutes of public comment at the May 10 meeting, only one voiced support for the ban, first suggested in March by Surf Lane resident Gary John Fumicello.


As Kennebunk Dog Advisory Committee members Ann Legg, left, and Linda Miller Cleary, confer during a May 10 meeting attended by nearly 150 residents — most there to argue down a proposal to ban dog’s from Gooch’s Beach — Sophie, Legg’s 13-year-old golden doodle service dog, assumes an air of contented disinterest in the proceedings. As Kennebunk Dog Advisory Committee members Ann Legg, left, and Linda Miller Cleary, confer during a May 10 meeting attended by nearly 150 residents — most there to argue down a proposal to ban dog’s from Gooch’s Beach — Sophie, Legg’s 13-year-old golden doodle service dog, assumes an air of contented disinterest in the proceedings. Currently, dogs are not allowed on public beaches in Kennebunk between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., from June 15 until Labor Day. And when on the beach, they must be under “voice control” if not on a leash. But Fumicello says that’s not enough, citing safety and sanitary concerns.

“The beach right now amounts to an unmanned, unleashed dog park,” Fumicello said. “This is not a beach owned by dog owners. We should all have a part in taking care of it and making sure it is safe for everyone. I love dogs, but there’s going to a time when somebody’s going to get hurt. When that happens, you must know that, as dog owners you are liable.

“I have trouble looking at you, who all look like good, responsible dog owners, thinking that you would be willing to get somebody hurt before something changes,” he told the assembled crowd.

Fumicello has not yet submitted an ordinance proposal, saying in meetings before the board of selectmen’s ordinance committee May 9, and the dog advisory committee May 10 that he prefers to first work through the existing framework, in hopes the committee will draft stricter rules for selectmen to put before voters.

However, after residents filed out of the auditorium following the hearing, the committee sat down for its regular meeting, and decided it would not recommend any changes to the town’s dog ordinance.

Instead, the committee scheduled a special meeting for Wednesday, May 17, to vote on final wording of a recommendation suggesting selectmen first lean on stronger enforcement of rules already in place, by erecting more signs and increasing patrols by police officers, animal control agents and volunteer monitors.

“If these steps do not prove fruitful, then the committee can assess whether changes to the ordinance should be made,” read a draft of the recommendation.

The final edit of the recommendation is expected to be on the agenda for the June 13 selectmen’s meeting, a move made with special attention given to leaving Fumicello time to draft and circulate a citizen’s petition in time for the general election in November.

“One way or another, the people should get a chance to have their say,” said Selectman Dan Boothby, who serves as board liaison to the dog committee.

Outside town hall after the May 10 hearing, Fumicello said he does intend to circulate a petition, if that’s what it takes. Although he faulted Boothby during the hearing for allegedly having made up his own mind on the issue, Fumicello’s overall endgame was the same.

“The people should get a chance to decide this,” he said. “This is democracy at work.”

If commentary at the May 10 hearing is an indication, a vote, if it comes, will not be close. Several residents, including Chamber of Commerce Executove Director Laura Dolce, cited the so-called “Fido economy,” saying that leaving times in the morning and evening for dogs to be on the beach, even at the height of tourist season when the shores are most crowded, actually acts as a lure on dollars from away. And, if animal waste was a concern, the town might as well try to ban seagulls, Kevin Brooks said.

Among several rounds of applause was a sustained burst for a retired teacher who said she found comfort after her husband suffered of a stroke in 2008 by walking on the beach with the dog they’d got two days before the incident, for the five years she acted as her husband’s caretaker, and after his death in 2013. On the beach with other dog owners, she said, she found more than just a place to exercise her pet.

However, Fumicello contends that many residents in town support his cause, but are afraid to say so publically for fear of retribution.

Two residents who attended the meeting, and support Fumicello’s efforts, said they are afraid to publicly voice their opinions.

Inside the hall, Boothby and members of the seven-person dog committee congratulated the town for the generally calm tenor of the debate. Again Boothby echoed Fumicello.

“What we saw tonight was a great example of what our town is all about,” he said. “This is kind of the ideal of our democratic process.”

Still, Fumicello said there has been an ugly side to the town’s reaction, outside of the committee hearing. Three weeks ago, he felt compelled to quit his job at the Village Tavern restaurant when people found where he worked and began trying to organize a general boycott on social media. Fumicello said there have been ugly calls and comments, while some people have taken to encouraging their dogs to relieve themselves on his lawn.

“We’ve seen it all over the last couple of months, but it’s water off my back,” Fumicello said. “I’m just trying to do something I think is in the best interests of us all, as a community.”

Still, the fight may draw more hard feelings before the community reaches a consensus on what it wants.

The one person who spoke in favor of Fumicello’s proposal, was octogenarian Frank Boudreau. Boudreau said he has not dared to walk on the beach for more than a decade.

“I wish the silent majority would show up at these meetings,” Boudreau said. “It’s not just the feces on the beach — we call Gooch’s Beach, Dog Crap Beach, only we don’t use the word “crap” — it’s the fact that the dogs intimidate us. It’s not just me, a lot of friends my age won’t go down there anymore.

“I’m damn mad about it,” he said, recounting a time when he was knocked down by a dog. “You folks want your rights, but you don’t care a damn about my rights. I don’t walk unprotected anymore. I have a constitutional right to carry a weapon. If I’m intimidated by any dog, I’m going to do what I have to do to protect myself and my wife and if you don’t like it that’s tough, because you’re telling me it’s tough I have to put up with your dogs. My taxes go to maintain that beach and I should be able to use it, too.”

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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