Is Volusia County going to the dogs?
What just happened has given a new meaning to the dog days of summer.
To the delight of people who want their canine companions with them on oceanside outings, and to the dismay of those who oppose sharing the sandy shore with animals belonging to others, the County Council July 11 voted to set aside a third stretch of beach for enjoyment by dogs and their owners.
“We’re going to make history in Volusia County,” Council Member Troy Kent told the audience.
That audience consisted largely of people enthused with the idea of taking their dogs — whom they consider part of their family — with them onto the beach.
After having discussed the issue and having heard from the public on the request for another dog beach, the council accepted a pilot program crafted by the county administration to establish a third portion of the beach for people and their dogs to enjoy. The next dog-friendly beach is in Ormond Beach, approximately 0.6 miles between Rockefeller Drive and Milsap Road.
Opening this portion of the beach has the approval of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which monitors endangered and protected species, such as sea turtles, and works to safeguard their habitat.
“That is a transitional area where beach driving is permitted, and we did finally receive on April 24th confirmation from the Wildlife Service that that would not require any amendments to our permit,” Deputy County Manager Suzanne Konchan said.
The permit refers to the federal agency’s authorization for beach driving where turtle nests are deemed not to be at risk from vehicles. Beach driving has been limited since 1995, following a federal court decision mandating the protection of sea-turtle nesting areas.
This stretch of the seaside will be open for canines and their human owners, effective Nov. 1, after the end of turtle-nesting season. The pilot program will extend until May 1, 2025, and the County Council may then decide whether to make the beach permanently open for dogs. At this time, the county has two other stretches of the beach where dogs are allowed, and those are Lighthouse Point Park and Smyrna Dunes Park.
Under the pilot program, licensed and rabies-vaccinated dogs will be allowed on the Ormond Beach section only if their owners keep them on a 6-foot leash and keep them away from dunes and turtle-nesting areas, as well as keeping them away from other beachgoers, dogs and birds. The beach will be open for dogs each day between sunrise and sunset. Not least, dog owners must clean up any waste left by their animals. The county may station an animal-control officer on the dog beach to ensure compliance with the park rules.
Much if not all of the first-year cost of putting an animal-control officer at the Ormond Beach park may be covered by a $100,000 donation from the Lohman family, who have been ardent advocates for the dog beach.
“Pets are good for our health, and we’re supposed to be helping everyone live better here in Daytona Beach,” Nancy Lohman told the County Council. “I’m not going to the beach because I can’t bring Snowball and Snowflake [her pets].”
Others spoke up in support of four-footed friends.
“Some of my fondest memories growing up were with my dogs on the beach,” Jo Stevens said. “Give us a chance.”
With her mother at her side, Abigail Flug appealed to the council to let dogs onto the additional portion of the beach.
“My mom is vice president of Daytona Dog Beach,” Abigail told the council. “I feel safer and happier when I have my dog on the beach.”
Former County Council Member and now School Board Member Carl Persil lent his support for another dog-friendly beach.
“As Martin Luther King once said, ‘It’s always the right time to do the right thing,’” he said.
“Today is the day to turn a not-yet vote into a yes vote,” Daytona Dog Beach Inc. President Nanette Petrella urged.
Not everyone was in favor of the Ormond dog beach. Judith Stein, who said she lives nearby the site, said she was “a voice in the wilderness.”
“Turning this stretch of the beach into a dog bathroom means families will not want to lay their blankets down,” she said.
“Never once have I seen anyone pick up their dog’s waste. Not one time,” Laura Rutledge said.
Rutledge said she has lived on the beach for 34 years.
A solid majority of the County Council favored establishing the Ormond dog beach.
“I want dogs on the beach,” Council Member Jake Johansson said.
“I’m going to support it,” Vice Chair Danny Robins said.
County Chair Jeff Brower described the pilot program for the dog beach as “a very responsible approach,” that applies to “1 percent of 47 miles of beach.”
“We’ve taken a lot of the fun out of the beach because of safety,” he said, adding the county government is “a republic,” in which “we lift up the individual.”
“Let’s let people have a little bit of their liberty back,” Brower continued. “There are more birds on our beach than there are people.”
Council Member Don Dempsey would not go along with the majority.
“As much as I like dogs, I don’t know if they belong on the beach,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to be properly enforced. … It may open us up to a lawsuit.”
On the roll-call vote for the dog-beach pilot program, Dempsey was the lone dissenter.