Editorial: Dog law has us scratching for an answer

Reading the latest chapter in the ongoing tale of the battle over free-running dogs on the beach, someone from out of town might find the whole issue perplexing.

How can it be that people living in one of the East Coast’s most desirable communities, an area blessed with abundant natural beauty, productive farmland and many, many miles of shoreline along clear and accessible creeks, bays and the Sound, find the time or the energy to battle over what others elsewhere might see as a rather minor question? Surely there are more pressing matters, aren’t there?

Related: No resolution in sight

But anyone who knows Southold knows that animal-related questions are no small matter here. Officials are still struggling with a burgeoning deer population, and the town felt so strongly about accommodating stray pets that it spent $3 million on an animal shelter. But how tough could it be to resolve the question of dogs having free run of local parks and beaches?

Dog owners seem incensed by the town’s attempts to revise its dogs-on-the-beach law. But what often goes unsaid is that the code as it stands bans dogs from public beaches at all times, and it’s all but impossible to enforce. Dog owners argue that it’s healthy for their pets to exercise on the shore, and the ability to do so is one of those elements that makes Southold the special place it is. On the other side, there are those who prefer to spend their outdoor time quietly, with no interaction with dogs, friendly or otherwise.

This issue carries echoes of the mid-1990s fight over the construction of the McDonald’s in Mattituck. Much of the opposition focused more on what McDonald’s represents than on what it is. McDonald’s represented the incursion of a powerful symbol of encroaching suburbia in an area proud of its rural/agricultural character. And now some dog owners see the town’s efforts as a chipping away of the character so many cherish. What type of town doesn’t allow a dog accompanied by its owner to run free along the shore?

Can’t we get past the emotional responses? Can’t we find the time and the will to compromise? If Southold is the town we think it is, the answer to both must be “yes.”