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Mar 12, 2013 5:52 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

In East Hampton Village, Owners Defend Dogs On Beaches

Mar 12, 2013 6:00 PM

There’s no question that dog owners value being able to take their animals to the beach, given the public’s comments at an East Hampton Village Board work session on Thursday, not to mention some 85 letters written to the village in support of that privilege.

“This is a very passionate issue, and my phone has been ringing off the hook,” said Sara Davison of the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons, weighing in on the board’s plan to tighten restrictions on village beaches in response to complaints about dog waste and misbehavior. “It’s almost a religious experience to bring your dog to the beach.”

“A spiritual experience” was what Steven Gaines of Wainscott called it. He said there was “nothing more beautiful ... than to walk on the beach with your dog.”

“One of my biggest thrills,” said Kevin Reynolds, is to go to the beach and introduce a child to his dogs, “so they have a good first experience.”

An outright ban on dogs on village beaches, said Mr. Gaines, “would be a great tragedy—it’s part of our culture, part of our heritage.” He said he wants to organize a townwide citizens group, called CREDO for Citizens for Responsible Education of Dogs, to put volunteers on every beach on weekends and protect the rights of dog owners as Citizens for Access Rights, or CfAR, has done for beach drivers.

“Give us six months, give us a year,” he asked the board.

“We don’t want to wait,” Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. told Mr. Gaines, explaining that the board wants something in place by this summer.

Dogs are permitted on East Hampton Village beaches except between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. from the second Sunday in May until September 30. Their owners are required to clean up after them and to “maintain control,” but dogs do not have to be leashed. Mayor Rickenbach called that “a very loose-knit description” on Thursday; tightening up the definition of “control” is one measure the Village Board has been considering.

An outright ban is not on the table, although there was a short discussion Thursday, which was ultimately dropped, of possibly providing “an avenue of relief” at portions of Georgica and Two Mile Hollow beaches for people who wanted to avoid other people’s pets. The board has also been considering keeping dogs off the beach later on summer evenings, perhaps until 8 p.m. to allow undisturbed summer picnics, as two families complained over the course of two weekends to the village about their dinners being interrupted by uncontrolled animals.

“We’re here to try to make that balance,” Mayor Rickenbach said. “We’re probably the most benevolent, if you will, as far as what’s in place.” The village is slightly less restrictive than East Hampton Town, where dogs are not allowed within 300 feet of a road end on the bay or 500 feet of a road end on the ocean from May 15 to September 15 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. unless they being transported through that area while “manually restrained.”

Before last week’s meeting, the mayor met with Village Board member Richard Lawler and Diane McNally, clerk of the East Hampton Town Trustees, the village’s co-stewards in preserving beaches for public use. One idea they discussed was requiring owners to keep their dogs leashed within a certain distance of the road end, a measure the village was poised to draft as a possible amendment after Thursday’s work session. Also under consideration was stiffening fines for people who fail to clean up after their dogs.

“The behavior’s not going to change if there are no consequences,” said Maureen Bluedorn, adding that responsible dog owners were just as frustrated as others about people who fail to clean up after their dogs, a problem several speakers said seemed more pronounced in winter.

“The under-control thing is a big issue,” said Village Police Chief Jerry Larsen. “If they’re using the beach as a bathroom, they might not even notice,” the chief said of the dogs’ owners. “The leash makes it a lot easier for you to keep track.”

“We do police vigorously,” said Mike Dickerson of himself and his fellow dog owners like Ms. Davison, whom he’s encountered on the beach. “It is offensive to me to get out of the car and find six to eight piles of dog poop” before even getting down to the beach, he said. Mr. Dickerson and several others expressed frustration at the prospect of sacrificing a favorite pastime because of other people’s sins.

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