Editorial: Logical compromise on dog debate

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 | It’s time to move on from the great dog-beach debate in Southold Town.

This is an odd-numbered year, and in politics that means town offices will dominate the fall elections. It has been thus every two years for many, many decades.

Over that time Southold has become something of a political anomaly in that local races often lack clear-cut issues. Farmland and open space preservation is always a biggie, but since the two major parties pretty much agree on what needs to be done, and developmental pressure all but vanished with the Great Recession, there’s little to argue about. What will the candidates be talking about as November draws near? At this point, who knows?

It’s not usually a partisan question and so doesn’t make its way into campaign literature, but nothing ignites a Town Hall donnybrook the way animal-related issues do. Some years back, for example, in response to repeated noise complaints, the Town Board proposed a bill to regulate barnyard fowl like roosters and guinea hens in residential areas. The Town Hall meeting room was filled to overflowing with animated, and in some cases angry, people on both sides of the question. The noise may continue, but the law died.

In recent months the only question that’s threatened the peace at board meetings is whether the town should relax or continue its ban against dogs running free on municipal beaches. Again, emotions run high on both sides, which in most places might seem quite strange. But this is Southold.

What seems to have been lost in the verbal fog is that town law currently prohibits dogs on the beach at all times and the Town Board has been looking for ways to relax that restriction to accommodate pet owners. Since the town never enforced that ban, for all practical purposes it never existed.

Sure, giving a dog the freedom to stretch its legs on the shore is a wonderful thing — and is for many a cherished part of country living. But so is going to the beach without stepping on biodegradable land mines or being barked at or nipped.

We think the Town Board has come up with a logical and workable compromise to let the dogs run, except during the months and hours when people without pets are most likely to head to the beach. That seems quite fair, and we hope the process transferring that solution into law can proceed without hype, howling or hyperbole.