On-Beach Off-Leash Dogs



Santa Cruz is dog heaven!

We have over 260,000 human beings in Santa Cruz County, and more than 50,000 dogs, by estimate of the County Animal Shelter. And that’s on a weekday in the wintertime. On weekends and during the summer months, a goodly portion of the 5 million+ people in the San Francisco Bay area come to Santa Cruz to frolic in the waves and enjoy the cool breezes… with their dogs. Imagine how much dog poop 50,000++ dogs leave behind every day.

For those of you unblessed with familiarity of Santa Cruz County, we’re south of San Francisco, on the edge of the Pacific Plate, on the north side of Monterey Bay. Classic California: surfers, Woodies, beach babes, warm beaches, cold water, wildlife at every quarter, mountains on the horizon, the edge of the world on the opposite viewscape. Paradise.

However… the silver lining on the clouds of this human and dog heaven are tarnished by a three-year long controversy over dogs running off-leash on County beaches.

There is a small group of Santa Cruz County dog owners who feel it is their entitled right to allow their dogs to run off-leash on any beach they choose, usually the one closest to where they live. This, despite a decades-long leash law that prohibits dogs from being off-leash when “away from their premises,” which means anywhere in the County, including County beaches. When visitors come over the hill to join the throng, they see dogs running on the beaches, and they think it is OK to allow their canid charges to join them.

Santa Cruz County beaches are not only popular recreational venues for human residents and visitors, but they are also sensitive habitat for resident and migratory shorebirds that have used these beaches for millennia as places to rest, feed and nest. The County General Plan and Local Coastal Program states that the County has the obligation to protect these sensitive habitats from disturbance from human activities, including allowing their dogs to run off leash on these beaches, even unto the point of banning all dogs from the beach, on leash or not.

Unhappy with County Animal Control officers for giving them tickets for violating the County leash law, the “off-leash advocates” have been whining complaining to County Animal Services officials about their stepped up enforcement activities, and the use of Animal Control officers to bring these dog-owning miscreants to justice.

The “off-leash advocate” dog owners are demanding that the County “compromise” on the the leash laws and allow off-leash dogs on “just one” stretch of beach, claiming that “those who don’t like dogs” can go somewhere else (unspecified) while they are allowing their dogs to run free on the beach, chasing shorebirds, tourists, families, surfers and other wildlife with abandon.

“Compromise” means each party in an agreement gives up something and each party benefits. In the case of off-leash advocates’ demands, only one party would gain (them) and everyone else, including the wildlife, would lose. This is privilege, not “compromise.”

It is not the duty of County government to compromise public health and safety in shared public spaces, to compromise the health and well-being of all animals, nor to compromise the biological integrity of sensitive habitats in County parks and beaches. It is not the duty of County government to grant special privileges to one user group at the expense of everyone else.

There are thirteen designated off-leash dog parks in Santa Cruz County. None of them are on the beach, because the County does not create off-leash dog parks in sensitive habitats, such as nesting grounds for shorebirds protected by federal law and international treaties.

If local “off-leash advocates” are serious about compromise, and not just concerned about their own desires to recreate on the beach, then they can give up their demands for off-leash beaches and take their furry charges to existing off-leash dog parks, where they can run free, socialize with other dogs and deposit their poop and pee in areas that do not degrade sensitive wildlife habitat.

It’s a win-win situation. Dogs get their fun and exercise, humans get to enjoy the beaches without getting knocked over or stepping in something smelly and unpleasant, and wildlife can enjoy their homes without dogs chasing them away from their dinner table.


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