No resolution in sight for dispute over dogs at beaches, parks

KATHARINE SCHROEDER FILE PHOTO | The town may soon have a say on dogs on the beach, such as this one taking a dip at Goose Creek in Southold.
KATHARINE SCHROEDER FILE PHOTO | The debate over regulating dogs running free at town beaches and parks is no closer to a resolution.

The very contentious and continuing dispute over how or whether the town should regulate dogs running free at town beaches and parks is nowhere near a resolution.

After both sides squared off during yet another Town Board hearing on the issue Monday, the board tabled the most recent rule change and will hold a new, less formal public forum on the topic.

“The board won’t be acting to pass this legislation in its current form,” said Supervisor Scott Russell, “I want everybody to be heard. The town needs to do something and we need to pass something soon.”

The subject of this week’s hearing was a revised code that would prohibit dogs and other domestic animals in recreation areas, picnic spots, children’s play areas and athletic fields where signs are posted saying no dogs are allowed. In addition, no dogs would be allowed on bathing beaches while lifeguards are on duty and within 50 feet of areas posted for piping plover and other endangered species. Exemptions would also be made for hunting dogs.

In all other areas, including beaches, owners would be required to keep their dogs leashed. The proposal has provoked backlash from pet owners and others who view dogs as a vital part of the community.

“A lot of people that live out here live out here for a reason and that’s a lifestyle reason,” Lewis Topper of Mattituck said during the hearing. “We don’t want this place to be a place where dog owners cannot walk their dogs without a leash on them. That would be like living in a major urban area.”

Mr. Russell said the proposed regulations would actually loosen restrictions at some beaches, perhaps allowing dog owners to bring leashed dogs to town beaches at road ends. Town code currently prohibits dogs on all town-owned beaches at all times.

“We’re trying to move the line to allow dog owners and give them access, but to balance these needs with the other people we’re hearing from,” Mr. Russell said.

This was the second public hearing on the proposed changes this year. The discussion was mainly one- sided with most residents favoring a less restrictive law.

“It seems incongruous to me that here we are trying to extend rights of citizens and visitors to enjoy the beach and yet if a person comes down to the beach with a dog with a leash and there is a lifeguard they’re prohibited from being there,” said Peter Terranova of Peconic. “It doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Mattituck resident Dan Catullo views the issue differently. Southold Town began re-examining its policies last year after receiving complaints about dogs running lose on Bailie Beach in Mattituck, where Mr. Catullo claims he was attacked.

“I’m starting to feel like Custer at the Little Bighorn over here. I’m a little over matched,” Mr. Catullo said. “Everyone throws around this whole idea of control. Only at the moment a dog breaks away from its owner to initiate an assault it is evident the animal is not under control, but by then the health, safety and welfare has been aggravated.”

Speakers had a number of suggestions to update the policy, including dedicating specific beaches and times where dogs could run freely, prompting Mr. Russell to form a open community meeting on the issues where residents could assist in shaping the legislation.

“Those are the types of things we can talk about,” Mr. Russell said. “If you are willing to live with those types of compromise I think we can find something that everyone can live with.”

No date was set for a community forum on the leash law.

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