Full disclosure at the top: We’re a dog family. A family with kids and a dog has a family dog. Couples who have dogs, but no children end-up relating to their dog as way more than a pet. The personality of the dog fills up day-to-day life in a bigger way, with endless conversations about the dog having well-defined moods and deep reflective thoughts, perhaps even opinions. Don’t get me wrong about family dogs, as they are given credit for having anthropomorphic traits as well (“What do you think Tuffy wants for Christmas?”) and they are just as well loved by their owners. But just so you know, we’re a dog family. So, I’m hardly against dogs.
Reading last week’s copy of The Mirror about a pilot program to be set up on Santa Monica State Beach that would allow dogs to be off-leash at a beach and down to the waterline, I immediately began loading our dog’s backpack for her day at the beach: Sunscreen, radio, a good book. Oh, wait a minute… she’s a dog.
The image of the carefree couple walking the beach with a sunset or sunrise behind them, barefoot, with their beautiful and very exuberant dog running ahead to chase a Frisbee is something of a California cliché. You see it all the time, especially in TV commercials for drugs that make your knees more flexible or help you with depression. But it’s a wee bit magical because most public beaches don’t allow that. You’d likely have to be on a beach where you were a property owner, which means you’re one of the lucky one percent we’ve been hearing so much about lately. And if you are, I don’t know if your knees are bugging you, but I’ll bet you’re not all that depressed.
As everybody is saying these days, let’s not make this about class warfare. What’s more interesting to me is whether we really need our dogs everywhere we go and whether because we love our dogs we are compelled to give them access to areas like a beach. A beach presents different issue from other open public areas, and that’s why the plan for our dog beach is going to be a pilot program. If the pilot program demonstrates that negative social and environmental impacts are minimal, a dog beach could be in our future. But, do we need one? Should we be looking at getting our cats into more of our outdoor lifestyle as well?
Dog parks, fenced areas specifically designed so that dogs can run without a leash and mingle with other dogs, have been a great success. The grounds are often covered in wood chips to avoid the wear on grass and muddy grounds after weather. You rarely hear of a shooting or drug deals at dog parks, although not everything is beautiful. Say, for example, the abundance of spit-covered tennis balls. But mostly owners and the dogs themselves enjoy social connection and some sunshine. And there’s always plenty of dog drinking water available, although randy dogs will sometimes hang out at these watering holes looking to hook-up. This is public space specifically engineered, if you will, to meet the needs of dogs and their owners.
A beach is not that type of specialized public space, and I’m not certain what enhancements will help to make a beach area more dog-friendly. Remember that dream image earlier, of the people walking their dog on the beach? The key to their serenity is that they’re alone. How will the walk-on-the-beach experience measure up if the beach is full of other people’s dogs? If you throw a stick for your dog to fetch, will nine other dogs run after it as well? Surely, the pilot program will yield some answers to these burning questions.
Is there a transformational experience available in bonding with your dog at the beach, one that can’t be had somewhere else where there’s far less chance of dog feces ending up in water where others swim or surf? Unleash the Beach, a group that could potentially partner in the dog beach pilot program, makes this statement on their website: “In the belief that our dogs help us to be a community – to interact as friends and neighbors – our mission is to establish an off-leash dog zone on the beach where we can recreate and socialize together with our dogs.” That’s the closest thing I could find to a guiding philosophy, except that in its “10 Facts About Dog Beaches” the organization seem to imply that having your dog at the beach is also something of a right. From its website: “Our request is based on a simple principle of fairness: Dog owners should have the same access to recreational opportunities as do tennis players, soccer players, sun bathers, surfers, volleyball players, joggers, bicyclists, and others who use the city’s parks and beaches. Dog owners have no greater claim than others – all we ask for is a fair shake. “
Well, now they’ll get their fair shake in the pilot program. But really, a guy in shorts playing volleyball is the same presence in a public area as a dude with two pit bulls on a chain? Why cite pit bulls? I’m sorry, but aren’t they dogs? I’m sure Unleash the Beach doesn’t discriminate against breeds. Or other species of pets, like my new Komodo dragon “Sulu.” He likes walking on the beach, just as much as joggers or soccer players, etc. And I think he’ll get along great with dogs. Or maybe we’ll just stay home with our dragon and our dog and recognize that as much we love them… we just can’t take them with us everywhere.