A pack of speakers begged the East Hampton Village Board on Friday to see how the summer goes before requiring that dogs be kept on leashes within 500 feet of road ends at ocean beaches. More than 15 people in the audience spoke against the proposal, arguing that dog owners can effectively “self-police,” that the distance would pose a hardship for people with disabilities and that there was little point in adopting new rules when existing ones could be more strictly enforced.
Whether the dogs were Labradors or golden retrievers, their advocates—one of whom, Steven Gaines, wore pants with a canine print—spoke to how important they were, and how important it was to be able to take them to the beach.
“Dogs have become part of our family now,” said one speaker, Rick Nersesian.
“A major part of our family’s pleasure is walking dogs on the beach,” said Robert Hoguet.
“I’m not able to walk 500 feet,” said Norbert Weissberg, making a point echoed by Randy Slifka, who said he has a service dog he can rarely free from her leash. “I’m not going to be able to walk my dog, and that fundamentally affects the quality of my life in East Hampton,” said Mr. Weissberg.
He called it “a matter of elemental importance,” while Mr. Slifka called it “a constitutional issue” affecting one’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
No one spoke in favor of the proposed amendment, on which the board took no action on Friday. Dogs are not allowed on ocean beaches in the village between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. from the second Sunday in May to September 30, and the amendment would have added that they would have to be on a leash no longer than six feet long within 500 feet of road ends “at all other times.”
Several speakers said that 500 feet, which is the distance required at the ocean beaches in East Hampton Town, was too much. Sara Davison, executive director of the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons, called it “unrealistic” and Jenny Berkeley of Beach Dogs 11937 described it as “excessive, unfair and unrealistic,” asking the Village Board to consider 200 feet instead.
Jarvis Slade was one of many who suggested that pet owners who fail to clean up after their dogs could be pressed to do better. “In New York we have 2 million dogs,” Mr. Slade said. “There is no problem in Manhattan with people picking up after dogs; I cannot believe we can’t do better in East Hampton.”
“I do think that over the last 10 years or so, people with dogs have become much more mindful,” said Dan Rattiner, who added, “Most of what I see is trash from people.”
Michael Dickerson and many other speakers said they strive not only to educate other dog owners about the need to clean up, but also do quite a bit of it themselves. “I’ve been really harsh on our own dog community,” said Mr. Dickerson, who said he’d seen a “100-percent improvement … in the dog community about policing our own behaviors.”
“Punish those who don’t pick up, but don’t punish everybody,” urged Tom Quigley, who said he picks up plenty of balloons and beer cans left by people when he walks on the beach.
Several suggested better enforcement of the present law, perhaps with stiffer fines for people who fail to clean up after their animals, as well as a posted phone number to report violations or even undercover officers to nab scofflaws.
“The fines need to hurt,” said Marina Sabatacakis, who suggested tying them to dog licenses.
Richard Lawler, a Village Board member, said the village is limited in what fines it can set by New York State Penal Law.
A number of people in the audience wanted to know whether there had been “a groundswell of complaints,” as Mr. Nersesian put it, about unrestrained dogs on the beach. “Who are all these people complaining about the situation?” he asked, to applause.
“If we have a few people who aren’t happy, maybe we need a little fence around them,” Mr. Slade said, to laughter.
“Leave well enough alone,” said Gregory Monaco of village regulations. “Let sleeping dogs lie.”
Village Administrator Larry Cantwell said after the meeting that the village had received about 75 emails against the proposed regulations and perhaps a dozen saying that dogs should not be allowed on the beach at all or that the rules should be more restrictive.
Matt Norklun has complained at Village Board meetings about dogs’ waste and behavior at the ocean beach, and Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. said families whose picnics were disturbed by dogs have complained as well.
Mr. Weissberg noted that there no picknickers in winter and asked whether the leash requirement would be in force year-round, adding that the wording of the proposed amendment suggested that it would be.
The village attorney, Linda Riley, called that “a fair criticism,” acknowledging that “it could be interpreted either way.” She said it “would be easy to fix that to reflect the intention of the board.”
Mayor Rickenbach said after the meeting that the board’s “informal intent” had not been to require leashes at road ends in winter.
That, he said after the public hearing had closed, was a “key” factor in the board’s decision not to vote on the amendment, even though it was on Friday’s agenda. He said village officials would “go back as a board and take into consideration some of the comments today” and reiterated a desire to make the ocean beaches “user-friendly” for all groups. “There have been moments of criticism,” he said.
Mr. Cantwell said on Monday that he suspected the matter would resurface at the board’s work session on Thursday, May 2. Board members need to consider whether they want to shorten the 500-foot distance from the road end, loosen or abolish the leash-length requirement and decide whether the regulation would be seasonal, he said.
If the Village Board does decide to go through with the amendment, he said, “you like to have changes in place well before summer … to give people fair warning that the rules have changed.”
“At some point we will reach that point, where that will be not be practical,” Mr. Cantwell said. “Where that line is, I’m not sure.”