KITTERY, Maine — “We’ve got dog behavior issues, we’ve got people who don’t pick up their poop bags, and we have people who don’t even use poop bags,” said Kittery Town Council Chairwoman Judy Spiller.
Her remarks came Monday night during a workshop with members of the Parks Commission and Conservation Commission, held with the intention of updating on the “state of dogs” at Fort Foster and Seapoint Beach — an ongoing point of controversy for the town.
Dogs and their owners have previously been called the “NRA of Kittery” at a public meeting, as officials over the years have continued to discuss curbing dog waste and off-leash aggression incidents at the town-owned and managed parks.
Parks Commission Co-Chair Rich DeMarco introduced the commission’s report to the Town Council, which members worked on over the last year. It included the results of a survey taken by more than 150 residents, where results varied from dogs should be leashed at all times, to their prohibition from beaches.
Per the report, dogs are allowed to be off-leash at Seapoint Beach and Fort Foster, as long as they are under control of the owner, but “due to the lack of a clear definition, it is difficult for parties involved in a confrontation to be on the same page and report incidents.”
At Fort Foster, owners must take their dogs’ solid waste with them when leaving the park, and at Seapoint Beach, owners must properly dispose of animal waste either by placing it in a supplied receptacle, or, if one is not supplied, by taking it with them when leaving the beaches.
The issue at hand, though, as described by Police Chief Robert Richter and previously Councilor Charles Denault, is the great deal of ambiguity among the town ordinances addressing dogs — so much so that the “rules” are posted differently in varying places.
“We really just want to tighten everything up so everyone is under the same guise,” Richter said.
The number of dog calls and complaints has “seemed to have diminished between this year and the last two or three years,” said Richter, which he attributed to the presence of a new full-time animal control officer. The officer recently issued two littering summons, as opposed to a violation of town ordinance, to dog walkers leaving feces behind.
The reason, Richter pointed to, is York County District Court “wants nothing to do with town ordinance violations,” so the town must explore a way for such violations to be dealt with locally, rather than going through a district court judge.
“A lot of the ordinances here in Kittery have a range of fines associated with them, so (then) it has to go through a judge to determine what the fine is going to be,” Richter said. “If we can make it a set amount … we’ll be able to issue an ordinance violation where the payment will come directly to the town of Kittery.”
Richter noted the animal control officer has been giving verbal warnings “every week” for improper waste disposal or dog walkers whose animals he feels are not under their control. There have also been two alleged dog bite incidents, but they were reported second-hand, Richter said.
“When (the ACO) started ticketing, that just whipped through social media,” said Parks Commission member David Wrocklage, noting just the presence of the ACO may deter some dog walkers from violating town ordinance.
Spiller told Richter the ordinance exploration “seems like a good avenue for you to pursue.”
“We’d have more control of it and we can act more quickly,” she said. “We can slap people’s hands more quickly.”
Town Manager Kendra Amaral said the police chief and animal control officer will soon edit all town ordinances that cover dogs to make them “clearer and more enforceable” with “effective language choices,” building upon a draft dog ordinance that Denault brought forth to the council earlier this year.
Councilor Jeffrey Thomson maintained his opinion that dogs should not be allowed at Fort Foster during park hours, and if the town does allow their presence, there should be a fee — to help pay the animal control officer’s salary and clean the park. The Town Council has previously considered charging for dog entry.
“Fort Foster and Seapoint and Rogers Park and so forth are human recreation areas, they are not dog parks,” Thomson said. “If you go anywhere else in the Seacoast, no dogs, no dogs, no dogs. My position still remains for Fort Foster, at least, because of the revenue situation, no dogs when the park is open, period.”
Thomson said he and his wife have not been to Fort Foster in five years because his wife “was charged by a very large dog who allegedly was under voice control.”
Lastly, Thomson offered an opinion which he recognized would be unpopular. “If you don’t have a home with a piece of property large enough for your dog to run around on your property, and to squat and do his business on your property, then you shouldn’t have a dog.”
The town’s Department of Public Works spends approximately $2,000 per year on dog waste bags, which are offered at town park sites, according to DPW Commissioner Dave Rich.
Denault said he would like to see the council move quickly on the ordinance changes to ensure enactment before Fort Foster season begins in May. He added that the process has moved at a “snail pace.”
“Some common sense change to the ordinance is an excellent idea,” said Councilor Ken Lemont. “It’s time we acted on it.”