2013-08-30 / Front Page

Debate on animal control, plovers rages on

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

The Scarborough Town Council is debating on whether to further ban dogs from beaches in Scarborough, including Pine Point Beach, seen here earlier this summer. The group will hold a public hearing on the topic Wednesday, Sept. 4 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. (File photo) The Scarborough Town Council is debating on whether to further ban dogs from beaches in Scarborough, including Pine Point Beach, seen here earlier this summer. The group will hold a public hearing on the topic Wednesday, Sept. 4 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. (File photo) An accident in July in which a wayward dog killed a fledging piping plover chick on Pine Point Beach has launched a townwide debate on how to protect the state endangered shorebird while allowing dogs and their owners to enjoy recreational activities on town beaches.

More than two dozen residents appeared before the Town Council last week to share their thoughts on a new animal control ordinance that would ban dogs on Scarborough beaches from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from April 1 to Sept. 15.

Under the new ordinance, dogs would only be allowed on the beach during those months between 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. if they are on leash and controlled by its owner.

Currently unleashed dogs are permitted on Scarborough beaches during the summer season from 5 p.m. to sunrise if on leash and from sunrise to 9 a.m. if they are under “voice control” of their owners.

The ordinance change was supported by the five councilors in attendance—James Benedict and Council Chairman Ron Ahlquist were absent—but Vice Chairman Judy Roy said there is still time for additional changes or amendments to be made if necessary.

The Town Council will next address the issue when they hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 4.

Although not an official public hearing, Wednesday, Aug. 21, the Town Council heard close to two hours of public comment from both people who support the ordinance change and who would like the council to leave well enough alone.

Most agreed, however, the piping plover, a small shoreland bird that is listed as an endangered species in Maine, is worth protecting.

Piping plovers come up the eastern seaboard to Scarborough beaches in April to lay eggs and raise their young. Lindsay Tudor, a wildlife biologist with Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said the organization supports a stricter control of dogs on the beach, but the piping plover is only one of the birds on the beach that needs to be protected.

Scarborough beaches, she said, are also home to the least tern, red knot and roseate tern, all birds that are endangered in this state or in danger of being so.

“It is important to save the piping plovers, but I think it is prudent to change your ordinance to protect these other species,” she said.

Tudor said it is difficult to protect the piping plover because the bird matches the color of the sand and is next to impossible to see.

“One of the greatest challenges and benefits of the birds is they are really well camouflaged,” said Laura Zitske, a wildlife biologist with Maine Audubon.

Zitske said this summer there was one piping plover nest on Pine Point Beach, two at Scarborough Beach and one at Higgins Beach.

Eddie Woodin was one of several at the meeting who said they would like to see greater protection for the piping plovers.

“If I had my druthers, I’d like to see a dog park created by (Black Point Park), dig a hole so they can swim and ban them from the beach,” Woodin said.

Karen D’Andrea, one of several former town council members who spoke, said she supports the proposed ordinance.

“I think they make sense, D’Andrea said of the regulations. “I agree dogs should be leashed. I may go so far as to say dogs should be on leash at all times except on private property. I have a dog. I am a dog person. I think there are plenty of places for dogs to run.”

Gail Bruns, a resident of Hanson Road, disagreed.

“A lot of people don’t have other opportunities for their dogs to exercise and run,” Brun said as she voiced her opposition to the proposed ordinance language.

Many who spoke at the meeting, including Douglas Lud-Yates, said the ordinance on the books is restrictive enough. He said the ordinance in place is a “balance between those who want to exercise their dogs and those who don’t want them on the beach at all.”

He said imposing additional restrictions would impact his lifestyle and the lifestyles of many others in Scarborough.

“To walk your dog on the beach is a lifestyle for many, many people,” Lud-Yates said.

It is a lifestyle Paul Austin, a lifelong dog owner who used to show them professionally, left behind many years ago.

“I stop going to the beach with my dogs 15 years ago because I was so upset with the way people were not controlling their dogs,” he said. “I think you need to realize there are almost no dogs that are reliable under voice control when there is excitement and people around.”

Catherine Rogers, who owns The Dog Paws Inn, a dog daycare and boarding facility on Gorham Road, said she gets calls all the time from people from out of state who are looking forward to coming to Scarborough to enjoy the town’s beaches with their dogs. The new ordinance, which she called “an unnecessary overreaction,” would change that.

“There are some other pretty practical steps that can be made ... short of an allout ban (of unleashed dogs),” she said.

Some speakers suggested restricting access to the areas of the beach where the piping plovers nest rather than banning unleashed dogs from the entire beach.

Town Council Ed Blaise said that would not work.

“Once the birds hatch, they move along the beach. It is not just the nesting area that needs to be protected. It is the entire beach that needs to be protected,” he said.

D’Andrea said regulating dogs is but one of the things that need to be done to protect piping plovers.

“Dogs on the beach is not the only danger piping plovers are experiencing. This is one piece of the protection puzzle,” she said, adding that cats and fireworks also pose threats.

“We know there are a lot of problems with piping plovers on the beach. The dog piece is just a small piece of the problem.”

While there was disagreement on just how to solve the “protection puzzle,” members of the council and the general public seemed to agree that enforcement of the existing animal control ordinance is an issue.

“If a dog is not under voice control it is an enforcement issue and the enforcement is not being done,” said Bill Kennedy, of Downeast Lane.

Roland Grenier, a regular beach walker who lives in a house near the Old Orchard Beach-Scarborough town line, said in some cases enforcement is simply not being done.

“In 16 years in that house, I’ve never seen anyone on Pine Point enforcing the ordinance,” he said.

Finding the right solution to how to regulate dogs on the beach will not come easily for the council.

“It’s a very multifaceted issue,” said Town Councilor Jessica Holbrook. “I certainly sympathize with people.”

Blaise said discussions are just beginning to figure out the best solution.

“This is just the beginning of the process. We will have another meeting and another public hearing,” Blaise said. “One thing we will delve into is the enforcement. We all know that it is key. It is key for any ordinance. How we do it we will have to figure out.”

Roy said it may take some thinking outside the box.

“I think we can become innovative with the resources we have,” she said. Want to comment on this story? Login to our website at leader.mainelymediallc.com and let us know your thoughts.

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