Tuesday, April 17, 2012

When Dogs Run Free


In the past few weeks there has been much discussion in Live Oak about allowing dogs to run off leash on the beach between Corcoran and Moran Lagoons. 

Although Santa Cruz County has strict leash laws that apply to the beaches as well as inland, some dog owners have gotten used to letting their dogs run off-leash on the beaches, as budget restrictions have resulted in intermittent leash law enforcement by County Animal Services. Recent patrols by Animal Services officers have raised awareness of restrictions on off-leash dogs and have prompted some dog owners to lobby Animal Services and County government to grant exemptions to the leash law at the three County beaches.

One of the arguments put forward by dog owners in favor of off-leash hours on the beach, is that responsible dog owners obey the laws, pick up after their dogs and help keep the beaches clean. To see how well this works, I took a tour of two beaches in the City limits of Santa Cruz. 











Mitchell's Cove beach has off-leash dog hours from sunrise to 10 am and 4 PM to sunset, the same hours proposed for the three County Beaches, and well posted with signage at the stairs leading down to the beach. I was there at 11 AM on April 17 and watched three "responsible" dog owners letting their dogs run free on the beach, an hour past the 10 AM restriction.













Lighthouse Field State Park Beach is owned and regulated by California State Parks and is prominently posted "Dogs On Leash Only." Nevertheless, at 11:30 AM, the beach was overrun by 20 or more dogs running off-leash, and their "responsible" owners. Since State Parks has little money for enforcement, irresponsible dog owners know that this is a place where they can bring their dogs to run free with impunity.


While it is true that there are many responsible local dog owners who do not flaunt local, county, state and federal laws, there are also many irresponsible dog owners who ignore the laws by letting their dogs run free in prohibited areas. This is why we have strict leash laws in the County and City and why its is essential that special exemptions to the law not be made for specific beaches.

There are thirteen specified inland "Off-Leash" dog parks in Santa Cruz City and County, where dog owners can take their dogs for exercise, socialization and fun for their dogs and for themselves. Dogs running free on beaches harass and drive off wildlife, including the endangered Western Snowy Plover. 

Let's all be responsible dog owners and non-dog owners and preserve the beaches for animals who have no other place to go.