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Living In Portland

Life is pretty good here for dogs

One pet-centered top ten list of the nation’s most dog-friendly cities puts Portland, Oregon at number one, citing its 33 dog parks, “more than any large city in the U.S.”
Given the fact that our Portland (Maine) is a little more than a tenth the size of the other Portland, we can be proud that our city boasts more than 20 parks that allow dogs, and that doesn’t even include the many city-owned island parks where dogs can play leash-free, or the many stores that welcome canine visitors, like Longfellow Books, and, unofficially, several coffee shops. Also see this recent Live Work Portland blog on dog walks.
All in all, life seems pretty good here for dogs, and a local vet agrees. 
“Portland is an amazingly dog-friendly city with lots of good off-leash areas, plenty of doggy daycares and lots of dog-friendly stores,” says Dr. Alden Chadbourne of Brackett Street Veterinary Clinic. “I just love how in Maine dogs are really just a part of the family!”

Dog politics

But there are a few bumps.
When dogs seem to have the run of a place, controversy is inevitable. There’s always a local beach or park whose nearby community is rethinking or debating the rules about dogs, whether they’re on- or off-leash.
In fact, nearby Scarborough emerged just last week from a bruising fight over dog restrictions on public beaches following the dog-mauling death of an endangered piping plover chick last year. After an ugly process, the town reached a compromise, that pleases few, to limit off-leash dog access to active piping plover breeding grounds.
And in Portland proper, a renewed conversation about the behavior of off-leash dogs in Baxter Woods may lead to stricter rules on the famously dog-friendly walking trails. This balance–between dogs, dog lovers, and people who relish a dog-free stroll in a park or on a beach–is constantly being recalibrated, with Portland’s dog lovers and advocates an enthusiastic if currently somewhat unorganized presence in the debate.

A seat at the table

Portland’s Andy Graham believes dog folks need to establish “a seat at the table,” particularly when issues around dogs come up before the Portland City Council.
Graham says, “My own take on it is that the best way to sway city policy is to form a group. 'Friends' organizations are recognized as valid stakeholders by city staff and councilors, far beyond their actual weight in numbers.”
His personal opinion leans toward dedicated places where dogs can romp: “I like dogs running free because they are joyous. I also think the world is a dangerous place, and that cars and drivers and drunks are far more un-policed and dangerous than dogs.”

Rescue destination

There’s something else distinctive about Portland’s dog culture that you’ll notice if you chat with dog owners on East End Beach, which is leash-optional during specific hours and frequently populated with joyous dogs: a large number of these dogs came to Maine by way of one of the many rescue organizations that serve New England.
At Brackett Veterinary Clinic, Chadbourne estimates that 50 percent of the canine patients are rescued or adopted from shelters, a sharp increase over the past five years. She adds that she’s “absolutely sure that people in the greater Portland area rescue in greater numbers than in other places.”
An informal poll among beach-going dog owners yields the names of a dozen different rescues whose missions include bringing southern dogs (strays, abused or abandoned dogs, and unplanned litters of puppies) to Maine.
It’s an increasingly popular option for northern adopters who want to support nonprofit rescue groups while being “matched” with the dog or puppy that’s a perfect fit for them. The most well-organized of these groups screen dogs not only for health issues, but personality traits as well, including how they get along with other dogs, cats, and small children.
Chadbourne is a particular fan of Westbrook’s Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland and the Animal Welfare Society in West Kennebunk, as well as the Buddy Up Animal Society  and Almost Home Rescue groups. 
She emphasizes the importance of researching what veterinary care a rescue dog has had and favors an organization that “wants to do a home visit and find out a little bit about you as a potential adoptive pet parent. It means that they care and are invested in the animals they rescue.” 
Big Fluffy Dog Rescue is another group with a local presence and a network of volunteers throughout the Northeast. Big Fluffy’s dogs are rescued in the South and mostly cared for by foster families until they’re adopted. Their extensive vet care (dogs are typically vetted in the South and again as they pass through Connecticut) and two days of transport means their adoption fee is nearly $500.
While these dogs’ difficult histories sometimes require specialized training, Chadbourne’s experience, both with her patients and her own rescued greyhound mix, has been that rescue dogs “in general don’t have any more health or behavioral issues than the average dog bought from a breeder.” 

Liz Woodbury is a freelance writer and editor, co-owner of Milo in Maine and dog enthusiast. She also curates the blog Overheard in Portland.


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