Matthew Norklun first publicly stepped into the whole dogs-on-beaches mess when, on Sept. 3, 2008, he left a bag of dog feces — duly labeled with the date and name of the beach where it had been collected — on the steps of East Hampton Village Hall. He was found guilty of littering, and fined $500.
“I’m just trying to help out,” he said in an interview with The Star this week, when asked to explain the four phone calls he has made since May 8 to the East Hampton Village Police Department, to report dogs running wild on Georgica Beach.
As of the second Sunday of May, the ordinance banning dogs and vehicles from the beach between the hours of 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. is in full effect.
For the past 20 years, Mr. Norklun, an actor and successful magazine and advertising model (and onetime lifeguard) who lives in East Hampton, has tried to do his part to help rid village beaches of animal waste. “You’re barefoot, you’re walking in urine, you’re walking in feces, why is that acceptable?” he asked.
His usual tactic is to approach people on the beach who have not cleaned up after their dogs, and politely ask them to do so. Sometimes this works, he said, sometimes it does not.
Frustrated with a problem that just hasn’t gone away, Mr. Norklun has gotten into the habit of calling in the cavalry. “When the police write a ticket, it has more impact than someone asking you to not do it,” he said.
Police responded to two of Mr. Norklun’s recent complaints by informing dog owners of the ordinance; in the other two cases, the dogs were gone by the time they arrived.
According to Chief Gerald Larsen, Mr. Norklun’s are the only complaints to have come forward thus far this season.
“We don’t have officers patrolling the beach full time yet,” said Chief Larsen.
With summer looming, Mr. Norklun and the police expect violations to pile up in the weeks ahead. “All the signs may not be in place at this point, but we’re gearing up, and everything will be in place by Memorial Day,” said Chief Larsen.
In the meantime, Mr. Norklun is staunch in his efforts to rein in the dogs. “I saw a dog kill a seal one day,” he said. “I’ve been attacked. I’ve become the dog Nazi. Now people know me. I stopped one woman on the beach with her dog, and she said, ‘Oh, you’re that guy.’ ”
Despite the lone-ranger reputation he may have earned in some dog-walker circles, Mr. Norklun has behind-the-scenes emotional and financial support. His littering fine was paid for by admirers from Florida to East Hampton, he said. “Almost everyone who contributed said, ‘Look, don’t use my name.’ ”
Mr. Norklun had his own explanation for why his supporters might be reticent: “Dealing with the village board is like dealing with Tony Soprano,” he said. “You ruffle some feathers, and you’re not going to get a building permit or anything that is discretionary to the village board.”
While Mr. Norklun admits many people do not agree with his methods, he claims that there are a greater number who appreciate his efforts, and who have thanked him for taking action that they haven’t had the nerve to take themselves.
“Nobody wants to deal with it. I do go to the beach every day, so I care about it. It’s time to stop being polite. The dogs certainly are not.”