By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Dennis Couch and his wife, LeAnne Beil, decided Sunday morning that they would jump in their car and make the three-hour drive from their home in Mechanicsburg, Pa., to Ocean City.
They were anxious to see the Jersey Shore on a beautiful fall day, but actually their trip had more to do with treating the two other members of their family – their dogs Harley and Lily – to some new scenery.
“This is their first time on the beach,” Beil explained as Harley and Lily wagged their tails and panted in excitement.
“They’re not too shy about the water,” Couch added. “They’ve never seen the ocean before.”
Although dogs are banned on Ocean City’s beaches during the peak summer tourism season, they are allowed to romp on the sand from Oct. 1 to April 30 provided they are on a leash and their owners clean up any messes.
Dog owners are well aware that Ocean City’s beaches open up to canines during the quieter off-season months. They said it is one of the biggest reasons – if not the biggest – for visiting the resort in the fall and winter.
Couch noted that 12-year-old brother and sister Harley and Lily, a mix of the Brussels Griffon and Shih Tzu breeds, often accompany him on hikes on the Appalachian Trail and other places.
“They go hiking a lot, but they had never been to the beach,” he said.
On Sunday morning, Couch and Beil thought that it would be fun for them – and the dogs – to travel to the Jersey Shore to savor the beach and ocean.
“This would be a good day. It’s nice weather, so let’s go” Beil recalled of her conversation with her husband.
So three hours later, Harley and Lily were frolicking on the sand and in the surf. They were not the only dogs enjoying the beach.
Melinda Yannick and her boyfriend, Colin Devenny, both of Phoenixville, Pa., brought their dogs, Jacks and Comet, down to Ocean City for a weekend getaway to the shore.
It was the first time on the beach for Jacks and Comet. Jacks, an Alaskan Malamute, boldly went into the water, while Comet, a mixed breed, was more tentative about the waves.
Yannick said 13-year-old Jacks has been struggling with a tumor on his right back leg, so she wanted him to see the ocean for the first time before his health took a turn for the worst.
“He loved it,” she said of Jacks playing in the water.
Knowing that shore towns often allow dogs on the beach during the off-season, Yannick searched on Google to make sure that Ocean City was one of them before she and Devenny made the 90-minute drive from their home in Phoenixville.
However, dogs are not permitted on the Ocean City Boardwalk. Devenny said he found that out Sunday when he was on the Boardwalk with Jacks and Comet and a police officer politely told him dogs were not allowed there.
“We had a little talk with a police officer. He was nice,” Devenny said.
Chris Leonetti, a medical device salesman from Philadelphia, brings Taco, his 6-year-old Samoyed, with him whenever he visits the shore. On Sunday, Leonetti also had Waffles, his 12-week-old Samoyed puppy, with him for her first trip to the beach.
Taco, who was eager to run on the beach, tugged on his leash while looking at the water. He also furiously dug into the sand for amusement. Waffles watched intently while taking cues from Taco for doggy beach etiquette. The dogs’ lustrous white coats were even brighter than the beach sand.
Leonetti, who wears surgical scrubs when he stops at shore-area hospitals for his job, said Taco gets excited when he sees his owner changing into his work clothes.
“As soon as I put on my scrubs, he runs to the back door and waits because he knows we’re going down to the shore,” Leonetti said.