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.


Where can I take my dog off-leash on the beach in Santa Cruz?

It seems that everyone wants to come to Santa Cruz, California to let their dogs run off-leash at the beach!

Even during the winter, a percentage of visitors to the beaches of Santa  Cruz County are from out of town. It must be the sun… or something. A percentage of those visitors bring their canine charges with them as  well and can’t wait to get their dogs sandy and smelly at the beach. Go figure!

How are they to know – before they get here – that their off leash dogs are not allowed  on Santa Cruz County beaches (except Mitchell’s Cove before ten and  after four)? Or that there are five beaches (Main Beach, Cowell, Natural Bridges, Wilder Ranch and Scott Creek) that don’t allow dogs at all?!

As it turns out, there’s an app for that, or at least, a web site.

Click HERE for the answer to this and other questions at Santa Cruz Off-Leash Beach!

When Dogs Run Free

In the past few weeks there has been much discussion in Live Oak about allowing dogs to run off leash on the beach between Corcoran and Moran Lagoons. 
Although Santa Cruz County has strict leash laws that apply to the beaches as well as inland, some dog owners have gotten used to letting their dogs run off-leash on the beaches, as budget restrictions have resulted in intermittent leash law enforcement by County Animal Services. Recent patrols by Animal Services officers have raised awareness of restrictions on off-leash dogs and have prompted some dog owners to lobby Animal Services and County government to grant exemptions to the leash law at the three County beaches.
One of the arguments put forward by dog owners in favor of off-leash hours on the beach, is that responsible dog owners obey the laws, pick up after their dogs and help keep the beaches clean. To see how well this works, I took a tour of two beaches in the City limits of Santa Cruz. 

Mitchell’s Cove beach has off-leash dog hours from sunrise to 10 am and 4 PM to sunset, the same hours proposed for the three County Beaches, and well posted with signage at the stairs leading down to the beach. I was there at 11 AM on April 17 and watched three “responsible” dog owners letting their dogs run free on the beach, an hour past the 10 AM restriction.

Lighthouse Field State Park Beach is owned and regulated by California State Parks and is prominently posted “Dogs On Leash Only.” Nevertheless, at 11:30 AM, the beach was overrun by 20 or more dogs running off-leash, and their “responsible” owners. Since State Parks has little money for enforcement, irresponsible dog owners know that this is a place where they can bring their dogs to run free with impunity.

While it is true that there are many responsible local dog owners who do not flaunt local, county, state and federal laws, there are also many irresponsible dog owners who ignore the laws by letting their dogs run free in prohibited areas. This is why we have strict leash laws in the County and City and why its is essential that special exemptions to the law not be made for specific beaches.
There are thirteen specified inland “Off-Leash” dog parks in Santa Cruz City and County, where dog owners can take their dogs for exercise, socialization and fun for their dogs and for themselves. Dogs running free on beaches harass and drive off wildlife, including the endangered Western Snowy Plover. 
Let’s all be responsible dog owners and non-dog owners and preserve the beaches for animals who have no other place to go.

Dogs on Leash or Running Free – Who Decides?

There’s nothing like a quiet walk on the beach to settle nerves jangled by the daily commute, office politics, disturbing news of far-off political intrigue. The rhythmic swoosh of the waves, the cries of seagulls, the gentle ocean breezes. 

           But wait. What’s that smell? Eeeeeew!

All too often, idyllic walks along our local beaches are disrupted by loud barking, the threatening rush of bright teeth and furry bodies, the unexpected presence of smelly dog droppings underfoot. Our beaches have become playgrounds and toilets for unleashed dogs, turning a treasure for all into an exclusive domain for the few.
Santa Cruz County Animal Services has recently started enforcing County leash laws, much to the consternation of local residents who have grown used to letting their dogs run free on local beaches, in the absence of County enforcement. This has resulted in a lobbying campaign by dog owners to encourage Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors to provide off-leash hours at the Live Oak beach between 20th Avenue and Moran Lagoon. Proponents claim that their animals need freedom to run unfettered and that limited off-leash hours would not infringe on others’ enjoyment of the beach.
Santa Cruz County has strict leash laws, Section 6.12 of County Code, directing residents to keep all dogs on leash on public property and facilities at all times, and prohibiting animal defecation on any public property or improved private property, other than that of the owner. These laws would have to be amended in order to allow off-leash hours at local beaches. 
But County leash laws are not the only consideration.
Dogs running free not only pose a threat to people but also drive off shorebirds and other wildlife on local beaches, which are governed by the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS). Harassment of “any marine mammal, sea turtle, or bird within or above the Sanctuary” is prohibited by United States Code of Federal Regulations, Title 15, Part 92.132 – Prohibited or otherwise regulated activities. MBNMS works in cooperation with the California Department of Fish and Game and the California Department of Parks and Recreation to assist with enforcement.
At a recent constituent meeting by Supervisor John Leopold, opponents and proponents of off-leash hours at County beaches presented their cases. In response to a suggestion that the County provide off-leash dog parks where dog-owners can let their dogs run free in fenced enclosures, Supervisor Leopold pointed out that a dog park has been built at the new Chanticleer Avenue Park, on the West side of Chanticleer Avenue, about 1/4 mile north of Capitola Road in Live Oak. However, the signs at the Chanticleer Park indicate that dogs are required to be on leash at all times in the Pet Exercise Area, as the split rail fence is inadequate to keep off-leash dogs contained within the park.
Rather than flouting existing leash laws and lobbying for special consideration by federal, state and County officials, local dog owners would do well to organize and help the County upgrade the Chanticleer Park facility to allow off-leash dogs, and to build and maintain additional dedicated off-leash facilities on County parks away from sensitive beaches. These areas would provide needed exercise and socialization for dogs and an opportunity for dog owners to gather and socialize, without threatening sensitive species or infringing on others who prefer their recreational opportunities dog-free.