Rules of the game for dogs

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I would like to exercise my dogs on the beach, letting them run, swim and play. The problems with this relatively normal desire are that I don’t live on the beach and for the past four years I have lived in Malibu. Firstly, some statistics. There are (according to the 2000 census) 12,575 residents in Malibu, living in 6,126 homes. The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that 31 percent of homes have a dog, so this represents some 1,900 canine residents in Malibu. That proportion of dogs to homes seems to be true if I look at the 30 or so houses in my immediate locale.

Malibu has some 21 miles of beaches that are broadly split into two types: private beach, space associated with a property above mean high tide, and public beach, which is all other beach space, including below mean high tide in the “private beach” areas. Dogs who belong to residents of the private beach area are allowed on the private part of beaches but not on any part of the public beach. I don’t know of any part of the beach system which has the mean high tide line marked, so, without

the benefit of a surveyor, it is impossible to know where that line is. Dogs of non-beach residents are not allowed on any part of Malibu’s beaches.

What I have seen on beaches throughout Malibu is that dogs are regularly on the beach and off their leashes. I am sure that if I watched on Carbon Beach or Latigo Beach for a whole day I would see more than 100 dogs with, I guess, 70 to 80 off their leads. Simple observation tells me that dogs frequently go to the water line or for a swim. In Malibu, this is illegal, except when the tide is high and you are a beach resident.

When I look at how this situation is policed, as far as I can tell it is ignored until someone complains, and in my experience the complainants are mostly disgruntled residents seeking to keep their private beaches just that, private. We seem to accept the double standard of non-beach residents being ticketed and beach residents not being ticketed for exactly the same crime. My sense of fair play is disturbed.

I would like to exercise my dog on the beach, so let’s have a look at how other communities have solved this reasonable aspiration. Globally, I believe that the vast majority of beaches restrict access to dogs in any way, but I have taken three examples to look at: Channel Drive, Santa Barbara CA; Huntington Dog Beach, Huntington, CA; and Monash City, near Melbourne, Australia.

These areas go from a very relaxed attitude to the more disciplined. There is a very strong consensus that it is not acceptable to have out of control or aggressive dogs in public place, and that owners are responsible for poop scooping, with some areas providing bags and bins for this purpose. At the friendly and relaxed end of the scale is Santa Barbara, with this beach report taken off the internet. “Santa Barbara, CA is an extremely dog friendly city! We saw tons of happy humans and dogs frolicking off leash along Channel Drive Beach. The beach is easy to find, as it is directly across the street from the Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel on Channel Drive. Plenty of parking along the street, and lots of loving dog owners to chat with! The views are beautiful and there is a long stretch of beach for running, fetching, etc. Truly a great place!”

Next on to Huntington Doggie Beach, which has more restrictive rules and a $15 to $25 dollars (tax deductible) membership donation. The rules are more restrictive, as follows: “Maintain control of your dog(s) at all times; Keep your dog(s) on leash until you are on the wet sand; Dogs must be leashed on the dry sand; Pick up after your dog(s) and dispose of the waste in the trash-cans.”

Lastly on to Monash City in Australia, which I use because it has very rigorous but reasonable rules as follows:

1. Remain in effective voice or hand management of the dog so you can promptly place the dog on a lead, if that becomes necessary.

2. Carry a lead no longer than 1.5m, which can bring the dog under effective control if the dog threatens any person or animal.

3. Do not allow the dog to worry or threaten any person or animal.

4. Always keep the dog in sight.

5. Carry a bag, receptacle or other means of picking up, and removing from the public place, any of the dog’s mess.

6. Bring the dog under control if it is or is likely to be within 20 meters of: an organized sporting or practice event that is underway; an occupied children’s playground; an organized public meeting; an occupied permanent barbecue or picnic area.

Looking at how Malibu could take a more progressive attitude to dog owners and dogs, the only two realistic possibilities are a more relaxed attitude to dogs on the beach (decriminalization) or designating a number of dog friendly beaches. The former seems difficult (although this could be achieved by significantly reducing the fine) and the latter (dog beaches) seems more reasonable. Given that there are 21 miles of beach, it is pretty hard to justify that there is not enough space.

It seems to me that other countries, states in the US, and cities in California have solved the problem for me and my dog-loving friends wanting to take a walk on the surf side. I would love to at least have a local debate on the subject.

Kevin Hughes