By DONALD WITTKOWSKI and MADDY VITALE
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.
Mayor Jay Gillian says that he has been taking a “be nice, be kind” approach up to this point, but now he is warning owners that they must keep their dogs on a leash or face the consequences.
“We just have to be careful with dogs running loose on the beach,” he said during the City Council meeting Nov. 19.
He noted he has received complaints from some residents who are fearful that they will be bitten by unleashed dogs.
In response, Gillian is working with the Humane Society of Ocean City on a public education program reminding dog owners of the importance of keeping their pets on a leash while walking them on the beach and the streets.
“We still have to be responsible in the city to make sure people are following these rules, whether they think it’s ridiculous or not,” he said.
Police have gone out of their way trying to be patient and kind with dog owners who are violating the leash law instead of giving them summonses, Gillian pointed out.
“But the police are exhausted,” Gillian said. “They’ve been working, trying to be nice, to be kind, because that’s the way this administration has always tried to be. But for the few that just don’t care and are abusive of it and really don’t care about everyone else, we will have to step in.”
Violators risk fines of up to $500 for not keeping their dogs leashed. Gillian stressed that he would rather educate dog owners than fine them, but he is warning them that police will begin cracking down if violations continue.
“I’m going to have to tell you, if people continually disrespect this ordinance, I’m going to have no choice but to be heavy-handed, and I hate doing that. But if people do not work together, we’re going to have to do it. That’s always my last resort,” he told the Council members.
Gillian acknowledged that some dog owners will be upset if they receive a summons. But he said that some people are “scared to death” of unleashed dogs and won’t be able to enjoy the beaches if pets are allowed to run free.
“I know it’s a touchy subject. It’s like sometimes talking about your children. But at the end of the day, we’re talking about public safety. You always hear me talking about it. I’m not vicious, where I want to be mean and point fingers,” he said.
The city’s public education campaign will include having members of the Humane Society go out on the beaches to talk with dog owners and hand out pamphlets, Gillian said.
Phil Bellucci, director of operations for the Humane Society, is urging all dog owners to follow the rules as a way of showing “mutual respect and common courtesy” to everyone in town.
“The best policy is for everyone to honor the current dog ordinances. People need to understand that as much as we love our dogs, we must respect the fact that some people do not, and nothing can be more terrifying to them than an unleashed dog running at them,” Bellucci said.
Dog owners interviewed by OCNJDaily.com said they don’t mind the rules requiring them to keep their pets leashed.
Last Friday morning, Billy Bob, a rescue beagle, had the beach virtually all to himself.
“Billy Bob loves the feeling of roaming free, but he is on a long leash,” said his owner, Althea Vail, of Blackwood, N.J. “He loves the beach. He is really being a good boy.”
Ericka Mendes, of Charlotte, N.C., and her mother-in-law, Maryanne Woytowicz, of Ocean City, enjoyed a walk on the 10th Street beach with Mendes’ dog, Larry “the mutt,” a rescue dog from Brazil.
“It’s great. Larry loves the beach,” Mendes said while keeping him on a leash. “It’s great that we can take him on the beach here in Ocean City.”