PORTLAND, Maine — Unfettered dog access in Baxter Woods could be on a short lease due to complaints about pet owners who may not be cleaning up after their dogs.
Jeff Tarling, the city’s parks and forestry operations manager, and Parks and Cemeteries Manager Joseph Dumais are preparing to meet with neighbors of the 30-acre preserve to discuss balancing park use and better animal control.
Dumais on Friday said it is possible they will ask the City Council to enact leash rules in the park, although they would first like to step up enforcement and provide waste bags for dog owners.
Baxter Woods, deeded to the city for “for public recreational and educational purposes” almost 70 years ago, is one of more than a dozen city parks and properties where dogs are allowed off leash under voice control.
Chapter 5 of the City Code requires dog owners to be within 50 feet of an unleashed dog and defines “voice control” as a dog that “returns immediately to and remains by the side of the owner in response to the owner’s verbal command.”
Dumais said problems may be occurring when owners lose sight of their dogs. Failing to clean up pet waste on city property is punishable by a $250 fine, but a dog owner may not even realize what their pet has done, he said.
Requiring leashes in Baxter Woods requires City Council approval because the preserve is specifically included in the ordinance section that allows dogs to run free.
Dumais said Tarling is also meeting with members of Maine Audubon to discuss whether allowing dogs off leash is appropriate in a park deeded as a wildlife sanctuary.
Baxter Woods, donated to the city by former Maine Gov. Percival P. Baxter in memory of his father, former Mayor James P. Baxter, extends between Stevens and Forest avenues, near Evergreen Cemetery, in Deering Center.
Popular for recreation, it is also a living classroom for school students. Park conditions have led Lincoln Middle School science teacher Robin Lea to complain to Tarling about dogs approaching groups of students and dog waste left behind.
“Many of our students who come from immigrant and refugee families are terrified of dogs,” Lea wrote in an April 2 email to Tarling.
On Monday, Lea said she wants dog owners to be more aware of the park rules and how dogs are perceived by her students, even after she speaks to them before they go into the woods.
“We do talk about dog etiquette, and it may seem the kids are playing with dogs, but they are not,” she said.
Walking off-trail presents other hazards, Lea said, because some dog owners only bother to clean up along the trails.
“I was washing off my shoes multiple times a day,” she said.
But Baxter Woods also holds a deep attachment to dog owners who were using it Friday afternoon.
Jennifer Hall lives nearby and said she brings Raoul, a terrier mix, and Beau, a black Labrador, to the woods to romp and run.
“It is like our yard,” Hall said, clutching two leashes and a partially filled bag of dog waste.
Hall said the daily walks bring together dog owners.
“It is a way of life, there are a lot of dog owners out there,” she said.
South Portland resident Carrie Libby said she uses Baxter Woods frequently, and carries a roll of plastic bags in her pocket. She said she has also returned to the park to clean up waste left behind by other dog owners.
“I feel like it could be cleaner, but it is not a huge problem,” she said. “I would hope people could be more responsible.”