The East Hampton Village Board is taking a look at the often divisive issue of dogs on the beach, with trustees leaning towards increasing restrictions to combat problems that arise, such as the failure of owners to pick up after their dog.
Board members said they were surprised after reviewing research Village Administrator Larry Cantwell compiled of how other municipalities in Suffolk County curtail dogs on the beach. East Hampton Village, along with the township, is among the least restrictive.
In East Hampton Village, dogs are allowed on the beaches this time of year, but they are not permitted on the beach between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. from the second Sunday in May through Sept. 30.
Even in the face of $250 fines and in spite of plastic bags made available at the beach entrances, owners seem to be leaving behind their dog's business, particularly in the winter months.
Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. said the board is "brainstorming" on how to fight the problem. Everything is on the table — such as banning dogs from all beaches and increasing the times dogs aren't allowed on the beaches during summer months.
Trustee Bruce A. Siska said its up to the board to protect the village, even Main Beach's top rated status among the nation's best beaches. He recommended prohibiting dogs from Main Beach entirely "to protect that number 5 rating." He said, "I'd hate to see my 3-year-old grandson go down to where a dog has been before [on the beach]."
Deputy Mayor Barbara Borsack said she's not inclined to ban dogs from one beach and not another. Dog owners would just end of congregating at the other beaches, making the problems worse there, she said.
"It's gotten to the point when we are going to have to get more restrictions, at least between Memorial Day and Labor Day," said Trustee Rick Lawler.
No one agrees more with Lawler than Matt Norklun, who has lobbied for years to ban dogs from village beaches, where he says he finds dog poop left behind more often than not. He contends the issue has worsened over the years, despite signage and bags. He also complains that owners don't have their dogs under control during beach outings.
Just this past Saturday, he said dogs said to be friendly by their owners "attacked" him as he ran along the shoreline between Georgica and Main beaches. "I don't call being head-butted, clawed, and drooled on friendly," he said.
"I am probably the voice of the majority," Norklun said, adding that many people who support him want to remain anonymous.
Jennifer Berkely, a resident of East Hampton Village who has fought in the past to keep dogs on the beach, believes she is apart of the majority. "Each and every time the issue surfaces the same issues come up," she said, referring to ways to educate dog owners. She concedes that there seems to be "a lot of noncompliance during the winter."
"The main thing is to have a dialogue," she said to the board. "I would hate to see the easy decision — banning dogs on the beach. That would be the easy decision."
The mayor said that any proposals the board comes up with will go to a public hearing, as with any new or amended legislation.
One of the biggest problems, Village Police Chief Jerry Larsen told the board, is that some of the village's code regarding dogs on the beach "being under control" is open to interpretation. He would like to see that defined, perhaps to a leash law. "I love dogs. I have my own dogs, but from an enforcement aspect, it's very difficult to control," Larsen said.
It's an issue that is also being fought across the Sound in Southold, too. Late last month, a proposed law regarding dogs on the beaches came under fire, with many saying that the language of the law is too vague. The law as is proposed does not require beachgoers to leash dogs — only that they have control of the animal.
Here is a rundown that the village provided about how other municipalities handle dogs on the beach:
- The Town of East Hampton prohibits dogs from ocean beaches from May 15 to Sept. 15 between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
- The villages of Greenport and Port Jefferson prohibit dogs from the beach completely.
- The Village of Quogue restricts dogs from being on the beach between the Friday before Memorial Day weekend and Sept. 15.
- The Town of Shelter Island prohibits dogs at bathing or public beaches between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
- In Sag Harbor Village, dogs are prohibited from Havens Beach and Marine Park from the Thursday before Memorial Day through the Tuesday following Labor Day.
- Southampton Town beaches allow dogs from Oct. 1 through March 30, provided waste is removed and they are under the immediate control of their owner. Dogs are not allowed within 50 feet of fencing or areas posted for protection of Piping Plovers or other endangered species. Dogs are permitted in the parking area of the Foster Memorial Beach (Long Beach) in Noyac and Sand Bar Beach access area in Hampton Bays.
- The Village of Ocean Beach allows dogs to run loose on the oceanfront beach between Sept. 15 and May 15 only, as long as they are under the immediate control of their owner. "Said dog or dogs shall not be permitted to defecate upon the beach," the law reads, though if they do go — as dogs usually do — the owner must immediately removed.
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