East Hampton Village appears to be getting serious about new rules for dogs on its ocean beaches. This difficult undertaking is, unfortunately, overdue as previous efforts, both by officials and dog lovers, have proven inadequate. Strong feelings are likely to meet any plan to tighten regulations, but as the use of the beaches increases, how they are used and by what species must be reconsidered.
Board members were surprised and perhaps shocked at a meeting last Thursday to learn that the village’s dog ordinance is among the least restrictive on the East End. Dogs are allowed on the beach during the summer months until 9 in the morning and after 6 at night, and they are welcome at any time of day from Sept. 30 to the second Sunday in May.
East Hampton Village’s easygoing rules about animals on the beaches contrast sharply with those of Greenport, which ban them altogether, and Shelter Island, which ban them at all hours from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Among local governments here, only East Hampton Town is generally less restrictive than the village.
The problems with dogs on the sand are twofold: They disturb beachgoers and leave little gifts behind. While plastic bags designed to ease the collection of dog droppings work to some degree, encounters with piles of feces that have not been collected or were made out of a dog owner’s line of vision are all too common.
Though fines can be levied against those who fail to pick up after their pets, stationing sharp-eyed law enforcers at the beaches to catch the guilty would be a waste of resources, especially at a time when, for example, parents are asking for greater police presence at the schools.
As to urine, there is nothing that can be done about that; a dog’s going to go where a dog’s going to go — including on beach towels, fishing gear, and lifeguard stands. People aren’t allowed to pee and poop where sunbathers will shortly stretch out. Why should dogs be granted that luxury?
There is little short of a requirement that dogs remain on a leash at all times to deal with the fact that they can disrupt the enjoyment of beachgoers. Forget about an evening picnic with children; at any of the popular beaches, a dog or two is guaranteed to come sniffing around. Even a simple beach stroll can become nerve-wracking. People unfamiliar with dogs can mistake their friendly gamboling over to say hello as a threat.
We are sorry that the time seems to have come for a 24-hour ban on dogs on village beaches during the swimming and sunbathing season — as well as at the most popular town beaches — from, say, the middle of May through Columbus Day. Dogs already are prohibited at the downtown Montauk ocean beaches and at Ditch Plain in the summer, so precedent is there. On a trial basis, man’s best friends could be allowed on the sands in the off-season, with the explicit warning to owners that better clean-up and control of their pets is a must.