Mayor Robin Lentz believes dogs should be allowed to hit the beach without a leash and called for board discussion at the meeting Tuesday to consider changing the rules.
City code allows dogs on the beach but requires owners to have their dog on a leash at all times when they’re out and about with a furry pal. Perhaps, she said, there could be a designated area with designated times for dogs to splash without being tethered. How about early morning hours?
Her reason for changing the rules: “Dogs have a right to swim in the ocean.”
“On a leash,” said Commissioner Roy Smith.
“That’s just crazy,” she said.
“They’re still going to poop (in the water) and people need to clean it up,” he said.
Commissioner Len Kreger said there are people who are “terrified” of dogs and they have a right to visit the beach without fear of attack.
He also said the city won’t install fences on the beach to corral dogs. “You all know that?” Mr. Kreger is an environmentalist and a member of the local turtle watch organization. Fencing is an obstacle that could block turtles from nesting.
While Commissioner Tim Poynter said the city may not be ready to address the issue, Commissioner Johnny Miller said the city has grown in size and it’s time to step up law enforcement.
“We need to put cops in shorts…guys with guns on the beach,” he said.
According to Mr. Miller, Pensacola had a serious problem with beach crime and tapped tourist development tax money to pay for “beach cops” when tourism tanked. Mr. Miller said he would reach out to Atlantic Beach, where former Fernandina city manager Joe Gerrity is at the helm, to learn what that community is doing about dogs on the beach.
Residents who stepped to the public podium didn’t like the idea of dogs running around without being controlled by an owner holding the leash. They also called for officials to enforce rules that are currently on the books.
Local realtor Betsie Huben, who has been involved in shaping a county ordinance to protect beach wildlife, such as sea turtles and shore birds, as well as the natural environment, said a woman and her dog were bitten at the beach two or three weeks ago and required treatment for rabies (the county health department issued a warning for rabies this week after a fox on the county’s far west side tested positive for the disease). She urged officials to enforce the rules dealing with trash, poop pick-up, public drinking, and leashing that are being ignored.
“We do nothing to stand up for it,” she said. Issue tickets and problems “will stop.”
Emergency room physician Ronald “Chip” Ross, said he has seen “hundreds and hundreds” of “pretty horrible dog bites.” In conversation with victims he has learned that most bites from a dog happen when the animal is not on a leash. On-leash bites, in his experience, “are rare.”
“You don’t have a presentation?” said Ms. Lentz, taking an opportunity to tease Mr. Ross who frequently uses photos and charts when speaking to the board. The comment made people laugh. Even Mr. Ross chuckled.
Resident Julie Ferreira also questioned enforcement of littering laws. Cigarette butts, soiled diapers, and a long list of other trash is routinely left behind by visitors, she said.
Board members—apparently still giddy from teasing Mr. Ross—laughed when Ms. Ferreira described herself as “a large dog owner.” The ‘joke,’ which Ms. Ferreira said she didn’t understand-perhaps because she was focused on presenting a serious concern, apparently centered on wordplay: being large and owning a dog rather than being an owner who had once owned a large dog.
Commissioner Roy Smith joked about keeping kids on leashes when the mayor said she doesn’t go to Sliders, the popular restaurant along the beach at S. Fletcher and Sadler Rd., which allows dogs in the outside dining area, under City Ordinance, because “it’s unsafe for my kids.”
City Attorney Tammi Bach shared options for the board to consider:
- Allow leashed dogs on all beaches (current)
- Add time restrictions to hours dogs are allowed on beaches
- Require owners who wish to bring dogs to the beach to get permits
- Restrict “dog beaches” to certain areas
- Create a “dog park beach allowing for unleashed dogs and leashed dogs in certain area
- Restrict dogs from all beaches
The board unanimously agreed to table the issue. Ms. Lentz, who did not seek re-election and chaired her final meeting, asked Mr. Miller, who was elected to serve as mayor in 2018, to continue the issue.
“Here’s the torch, carry it for me.”