Is Volusia County going to the dogs?
More than three hours of debate on whether to allow dogs on more of the county’s beaches ended with a decision to try the experiment at one more seaside park. Dogs — with their owners — are already allowed to go onto the beaches at two parks, and the County Council may allow them at another park, this one in the northeast part of the county.
After listening to arguments pro and con about permitting dog lovers to take their four-legged companions onto the strand, the County Council Feb. 21 tentatively decided to extend beach access to canines — subject to strict conditions for animals and their owners — at Bicentennial Park in Ormond Beach.
“The problem with dogs is the dog owners,” Council Member David Santiago said.
More work and thought must come before there is an actual change in policy, however.
Complaints about the failure of pet owners to clean up after their animals, along with stories about dogs threatening people — or other dogs — chasing birds or disturbing turtle nests weighed against the expressions of affection for man’s best friend.
Asked how serious is the threat of dog bites to beachgoers, Beach Safety Director Andrew Ethridge said his agency responds to “about three to five bites per year.”
“We’re not against animals, but they don’t belong on the beach,” Bob Davis, president of the Volusia County Lodging and Hospitality Association, told the council.
On the opposite side were speakers such as Nancy Lohman, who highlighted the health benefits of animal companionship.
“It lowers blood pressure. It lowers stress,” she said. “I’m one of those people who consider our pets a part of the family.”
Lohman even offered to donate money to the county to offset the costs of allowing dogs on the beaches. The costs may include plastic bags for picking up animal waste and litter, as well as waste cans.
To be clear, the county already allows dogs at two beach parks, Lighthouse Point Park in Ponce Inlet and Smyrna Dunes Park in New Smyrna Beach. Other than that, except for service dogs, canines are not permitted in the 47 miles of beaches under the county’s jurisdiction.
The move to allow dogs at Bicentennial Park came after Council Member Troy Kent suggested the establishment of special zones, such as 100-yard lengths, of the beach where dogs — on short and tight leashes — may be allowed.
“I believe it’s going to be so wildly successful,” Kent said, proposing the county do more than one site. “Maybe we do two test areas.”
Kent added that the Ormond Beach City Commission and the Halifax Humane Society have expressed support for allowing dogs on the beach.
One reason for choosing Bicentennial Park as a dog beach, council members noted, is there is more parking available than at other places.
The council ultimately settled on the Ormond Beach park.
As for the possible expansion of places for dogs to enjoy the beach, the council asked administrative staff to bring back more information on the possible costs, including cleanup, signage and numbers of personnel, as well as options for other oceanside locations that could become dog-friendly and the sizes of those test areas.
Staff will present more information and options next month. At that time, the elected body may settle on the specifics of possible changes in its policy on dogs and beaches. Such changes will be drafted into an ordinance the council will consider at a later date.
Proposed regulations include requiring leashes no longer than 6 feet and forbidding animals to go onto the dunes.
The council may increase the fines for people with animals who violate the beach rules. Currently, the fine is $50 per infraction.
“We must enforce our rules with heftier fines, … more than $50,” Kent said.
The County Council will also consider whether to charge pet owners for walking on the beach.
“There is going to be a recurring expense,” Council Vice Chair Danny Robins said.
“User fees are the option to make this work,” he later added.
“There needs to be some sort of user fee going forward,” he said.
Asked later if such a charge would be a beach toll for dogs, Santiago chuckled.
One possible way of charging people to take their dogs on beaches “may be a [county-issued] bracelet the owner could have, for maybe $15 a year.”
The County Council may flesh out the details when it convenes for its next evening meeting on March 21. That meeting will begin at 4 p.m. in the Council Chambers of the Thomas C. Kelly County Administration Center, 123 W. Indiana Ave. in DeLand. The meeting is free and open to the public.