The dog days of summer
Enforcement of dog and leash laws ramps up on beaches, at parks
By Shane Cohn 07/19/2012
It’s a beautiful thing to watch a dog fetch a Frisbee on the beach, or marvel as it hopelessly chases after a flock of seagulls.
The problem is that it’s unlawful for dogs to run free on the beach in Ventura County.
While the leash law is pretty simple — keep your dog on a leash except in designated off-leash areas — dog owners don’t often take the leash law very seriously, which, said Donna Gillesby, deputy director of Ventura County Animal Services, can be dangerous.
“Dog owners often gather in groups and allow their dogs to run free and play,” Gillesby said. “But sometimes people walk by with dogs on leashes and those dogs get attacked. It’s safer for your dog and others around if dogs are on a leash.”
Animal Services conducts periodic patrols of areas commonly populated by dogs and their owners, and also responds to calls and complaints about loose dogs. A first-time violation most likely warrants a warning for the dog owner, said Gillesby. If a citation is issued, the cost is $135, which can increase with multiple infractions.
But dog owners feel that there aren’t enough designated places for dogs to run free.
In Ventura, for example, there are two designated off-leash areas: Camino Real Park from dawn to dusk, and Arroyo Verde Park, Tuesday-Sunday, from 6 to 9 a.m.
“If they’re going to crack down on the leash law, there should be more than two places allowed,” said Natalie Venegas, co-owner of Coastal K9, a dog-walking and full service pet company in Ventura.
Otherwise, Venegas said, places like Cemetery Park and Ventura Community Park, will continue to be perceived as dog parks.
And then there is the beach.
Much of Ventura and Oxnard’s coastline is dedicated to State Parks, and it is illegal for dogs to be on state beaches in California, with or without leash. That means the beaches at Emma Wood State Beach, San Buenaventura State Beach and McGrath State Beach should, according to the letter of the law, remain dog-free.
There are several protected species, like the snowy plover, whose habitat is threatened by dogs, explained, Eric Hjelstrom, superintendent for Ventura State Parks.
“It’s the mission of the department to protect those critters, which is why we don’t allow dogs to run free on the beach, or on a leash,” said Hjelstrom.
Health and safety is also in the department’s mission.
“I’ve had more disturbing-the-peace situations than any other dog issue,” Hjelstrom said. “It evolves from two dogs going after each other, then the owners going after each other, which is a very dangerous situation.”
Pierpont Beach in Ventura has been the most contentious area concerning dog-related issues, advised Hjelstrom. There is a 40-foot right of way beginning at the Pierpont property line, extending to the shore, which allows for dogs to be on a leash because it is city of Ventura property. But beyond that area to the shoreline, the beach belongs to State Parks.
Hjelstrom admitted that enforcement of the law has fluctuated over the years because his staffing numbers haven’t been consistent. But this year, he has a full staff — eight peace officers — and residents may be experiencing more enforcement efforts than previously.
“What we’re finding in the Pierpont area is that people are getting fairly aggressive with the officers, arguing and not accepting the rule, and that puts officers in more of a letter-of-the-law approach where they have to write the tickets,” Hjelstrom said, adding that his department doesn’t generate revenue from writing tickets because citations are handled by county courts. “We don’t want to give tickets to anybody but we do have a job to do.”
Hjelstrom compared the leash law to the speed limit law. If enforcement isn’t around, he said, people are likely to take advantage of the opportunity and drive a bit faster, or allow their dogs to run off-leash.
“Dogs are social creatures, and the leash law is something that is frustrating,” said Venegas. “But it’s in place to protect dogs, people and other animals. We just need more off-leash-friendly places.”