Who’s to say who’s allowed? This dog—every dog—loves the beach. She runs to it, gets her claws into it, furiously digging, digging, she wallows, rolls, snorts, rolls, jumps up running for the waves, swims, then hits the sand running again. The routine might be broken by joyful barks, but otherwise it’s always the same.

The time of year doesn’t matter to her. She can be scorching her pads on the sand, or dodging ice floes. It’s the beach! And we’re never alone. People surf-fish around the bathers all summer long. In migration seasons, birds and birdwatchers flock here in droves. Winter brings the seals up the estuary, fishing in the warmer river waters, and deer leave tracks in the sand. But, for this dog, it’s only ever better when other dogs are there with her.

So the signs make no sense. “Dogs not allowed,” they say, during the summer months. That’s when the otherwise empty houses fill up again in this dying—well, no, dead—mill city. That’s when the year-rounders, so many children and grandchildren of Acadians who came to work in the now-defunct mills of The City that Rises Where the River Falls, mothball their Canadian heritage. For one season a year, they suspend that nation’s principle of communal coastal property, otherwise so gloriously extended to us across the Maine shores.

This dog is a Labradoodle. Half poodle, half Labrador retriever, like most of the locals she too could claim French-Canadian roots. Either way, I’d like to see this dog like me as “from away,” as they say here of everyone not born of Mainers. I’d like to think she shares my suspicion of their shifting notions of what’s allowed. Worse, I’ve fast-talked and fast-walked her around the law for too long to stop now. On the beach, we see no fences, no markers, so we just keep going.

We elude the fish police, who issue tickets and use live—well, no, dead—animal tests for toxic algae to determine whether to close the beaches to shell-fishing. Finding high counts of e. coli bacteria, sometimes they also close them to swimmers. But this dog and I are not part of the problem. Steering clear of the beach-house owners, I’m careful to carry poo-bags to demonstrate at a distance that there’s no need to worry about our zoonoses, our shared microbial life, not from this dog. I wonder whether they think about how the city’s wastewater overflows with each heavy rain, then heads directly downstream to mingle with their own septic-system runoff on the beach and out to sea.

Undaunted, today this dog and I cooled our heels by walking the sandbars that the tides are always shifting between river and ocean. I thought about how ten-thousand-year-old burial evidence locates human-dog cohabitation as a constant across so many continents, and what might remain of these shared histories in the six-thousand-year-old firepits unearthed now and then here, where we walk. Heading back up the path later, we met a young fox, skinny and with no brush to speak of yet, who stared back at her, clearly recognizing a sister canid. Who’s to say who’s allowed?

Susan McHugh