New Year's Resolution: Obey County Leash Laws

Off-leash dogs on County beaches create an intolerable situation for wildlife, responsible dog owners and the general pubic. It's time for this illegal activity to stop.

It’s a New Year and a new beginning… for some.

On Santa Cruz County beaches, it’s the same old story: wildlife and beach-goers looking for quiet contemplation of the natural world are driven away by packs of dogs running off-leash, and their owners who allow them to roam in violation of County leash laws.

Santa Cruz County has strict dog leash and defecation laws, making it illegal to allow dogs to run off-leash and/or defecate anywhere in the County away from their owners’ property. County Animal Services is tasked with enforcing County leash laws, in spite of inadequate funding that limits their ability to respond to obvious illegal off-leash activities on local beaches.

 It is perfectly legal to bring dogs to County beaches on-leash, as a minority of dog owners responsibly do. Off-leash activities this time of year are not the result of visitors unaware of local laws. Dog owners on the beaches in winter months are locals, fully aware of local laws and regulations regarding off-leash laws. Many have already received warnings and fines from Animal Services, yet continue their illegal activities.

County leash laws were written to protect County residents, their dogs, other domestic animals and wildlife from harassment and injury from dogs running at large. County leash laws serve the greater good, sacrificing the absolute freedom of the few for the greater good of the general population.

Santa Cruz County beaches border the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which begins at mean high tide. The National Marine Sanctuary Act forbids harassment of any wildlife within the Sanctuary, which includes off-leash dogs chasing birds and other wildlife on the beach. Shore birds and other wildlife depend on free and unfettered access to beach habitats for feeding, resting and breeding. They can live no where else; reduction of their habitat leads directly to species extinction.

The County Animal Services Board of Directors has underscored its support for enforcement of existing County leash laws, and has recommend to the County Board of Supervisors to create enclosed and fenced off-leash dog play areas in existing County parks wherever possible. County beaches cannot be enclosed and fenced, by the California Coastal Act, so these off-leash areas will be established in existing inland parks, such as the large, fenced off-leash area in Chanticleer Park.

It’s time for all dog owners to be responsible to other County residents, obey the County leash laws and leave their dogs on leash when visiting County beaches.  

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jozseph Schultz January 06, 2013 at 07:38 AM
Clearly, very large numbers of otherwise law-abiding people think the leash laws are a mistake. Legal channels for changing these laws were followed for years, at great expense in time and money, to no avail. Many people LOVE dogs running free. My aged mother, among other health care professionals, credits her dog walks with adding years to her life. It certainly kept my marriage together. If you think your being bothered by dogs and your thinking off-leash dogs are risky and your laws passed without due process--often by administrative fiat--are going to stop an activity which is for many people a core enjoyment in life........then you've been smoking too much of that stuff that is now effectively legal because too many people--including the police---were enjoying it in defiance of the law to keep it illegal. Of course, the police love leash laws, because enforcing them is lots safer than fighting gangs or domestic violence.
Michael A. Lewis January 06, 2013 at 04:50 PM
It is legal for anyone to take their dogs for walks on local beaches on-leash. No one is calling for a ban on all dogs on beaches. In fact, it is not clear that "very large numbers of otherwise law-abiding people think the leash laws are a mistake." There are maybe fifty people who regularly allow their dogs to run off-leash on local beaches. This is a tiny minority of the 266,000 people who live in Santa Cruz County. These fifty people have an inordinate impact on coastal habitat, virtually removing bird life from the beaches when they are present. This is more than a local concern. Beaches are sensitive habitat under the jurisdiction of state and federal regulatory agencies. It is not just the purview of the County Board of Supervisors. Any action taken at the county level will initiate state and federal response. The health and viability of sensitive species' habitat takes precedence over individual human preferences.
Michael A. Lewis January 06, 2013 at 04:52 PM
Yes, there are many more people, and many more dogs. That's why leash law enforcement is so critical for the health and safety of all, people, dogs and wildlife.
Jean January 07, 2013 at 02:31 AM
There are plenty of places for dogs to "run and play" in Santa Cruz, off leash. For instance, the Scotts Valley Dog Park, the Polo Grounds Dog Park, the Chanticleer Avenue off-leash Dog Park, the Frederick Street Off-leash Dog Area, to name a few. In addition, the County will soon consider establishing some other parks for creating single-use dog play off-leash areas. By the way, the birds were not playing with your dog. That dive-bombing behavior was a protective act, as the birds view canines as predators. The birds were not "having fun;" they were jeopardized and stressed by the presence of the dog.
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