Monday, June 14, 2010

ENJOYING SUMMER BEACH VISITS WITH YOUR DOGS- ARE YOU A RESPONSIBLE VISITOR?


Gordon M. Grant for The New York Times

Matt Norklun says it isn't.


IF you go down to Wiborg Beach on the early side say, 7:30 a.m. the first person you might run into is Steven Gaines, the author, who comes with his dog Shepsil. I'm here every single day of the year, even if there's a snowstorm, he said.

By 8 a.m., more dogs arrive, accompanied by people wielding cups of coffee and tennis-ball flingers. If it's a summer weekend, there will be several dozen dogs, frolicking on the sand and in the water while their owners mingle. Nearly everyone carries a Mutt Mitt, a plastic bag for removing waste.

It's a way to meet people, said Mark Stearns, who drives with his wife and two French bulldogs from Philadelphia to East Hampton every weekend, year-round. We've met a lot of people because of the dogs.
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Just before 9 a.m., the dogs and their owners trek to the parking lot, complying with a law that bans dogs from the beach after 9 a.m. and before 6 p.m. during the summer season. By day, the families with their children trickle in, setting down towels on the sand that the dogs have vacated.

This is where the conflict comes in.

There's poop out there everywhere, and when it gets hot out here, it stinks so bad, said Suzzanne Fokine, a year-round resident who uses the beaches daily for exercise and meditation. We wouldn't let our kids poop on the beach, so why do we let dogs poop on the beach?

Forget the artists-versus-writers softball game or the quest for a reservation at Nick and Tonia's. The real battle line in East Hampton lately has involved the continuing feud between dog owners, who say they are diligent about picking up after their pets, and other beachgoers, who point to evidence otherwise.

It's as much a clash of mind-sets as it is of beach manners. I think the people who are dog owners and dog lovers are not really good at seeing the other side, said Steven A. Ludsin, who frequents Georgica Beach and wishes that dogs did not. They sort of feel like, ˜Why don't you love my adorable little dog?"
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The controversy grew acute over the winter, when officials in the Village of East Hampton floated the idea of cutting back the hours for dogs on the beach say, from 7 p.m. to 8 a.m. in the high season. This prompted many residents here to do what they do best when they are outraged: write well-worded letters to The East Hampton Star, the weekly newspaper.

It also prompted some to form a committee (another of the village residents strong suits). Kathryn Staley, who has a cairn terrier, and Maureen Bluedorn, who has two cairn terriers, organized a group called BeachDogs11937 referencing the East Hampton ZIP code to work against any new restrictions.

You know how it is in New York City, some people just spoil it for everybody, said Ms. Staley, who commutes between Manhattan and East Hampton. There are some people who just never pick up after their dogs and always keep them unleashed. Most of us abide by the rules and clean up the beach as we walk.
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During the off season, BeachDogs11937 worked amicably with village officials, and the upshot was that the rules for dogs on the beach were not altered. In exchange, the dog owners agreed to hold beach cleanups every month this summer and start an education campaign with T-shirts, pamphlets and radio ads to coax people to pick up after their dogs.

I think this year will be a good test for us, Ms. Bluedorn said. Larry Cantwell, the village administrator, is the point person for complaints about beaches, which he calls the crown jewels of the village. He also fielded all the angry e-mail messages from the dog lovers who worried about the potential rule changes.

When you have a conflict between people going to the beach and enjoying it with their children and dogs that spoiled the beach, it's a serious matter, he said. When you receive a phone call from a parent whose child has picked up dog feces on the beach, we take that seriously.

Which leads us to the story of Matt Norklun. A longtime East Hampton resident, Mr. Norklun has seen it all: dogs biting joggers, attacking birds, killing a seal, soiling on people and their belongings. At Georgica Beach, people wash their dogs in the hot showers with soap that are meant for humans, he said.

In 2008, he grew so exasperated that he took a Mutt Mitt, collected samples at Georgica Beach, and left it on the steps of Village Hall. Mr. Cantwell, who had to clean it up, was not amused, and Mr. Norklun was fined $500 for littering.

Mr. Norklun said his fine was paid entirely by neighbors who support his crusade but do not want their names associated with it. I'm not anti-dog, he said. It's just there's a place for everything, and the beach is not a place for dogs. Imagine a kitty-litter box: would you put your hand in it?

RelatedTimes Topic: Dogs

One thing both sides agree on: the summer people make that, the citiots, are to blame.
On a Friday evening, they drive out from the city and go straight to the beach, Mr. Norklun said. They're like, 'O.K., here we are at the toilet, let the dog out.' A lot of times they don't even get out of the car.He complains that the police department turns a blind eye. They hand out thousands of parking tickets every day, and they can't get one kid to go to the beach? Mr. Norklun said.

Actually, an officer patrols the beach by car every morning. It's one of our top priorities, said Gerard Larsen Jr., the village police chief. But we can't be everywhere all the time, and it's probably a small percentage of the people who aren't cleaning up.Last year, enforcement was stepped up, with officers starting beach patrol at 7 a.m. rather than 9 a.m., but to little avail. I don't think we've issued one summons yet for people not cleaning up, Chief Larsen said. It's like driving enforcement: when the cops are there, everybody slows down.

Most beaches in the United States don't allow dogs, period, but East Hampton has been relatively lenient. In the olden days, perhaps the 1980s when Main Street and Newtown Lane were dominated by mom-and-pop stores, the issue was less pressing, since there were fewer people and dogs. But now that the village has enough residents and visitors to attract the biggest names in retail Hermes! Gucci! Tiffany! the matter has come to a head.

According to the village government's Web site, the population of East Hampton village which is a subset of the Town of East Hampton is 1,388. But on summer weekends, that swells to an inestimable number (not counting houseguests). On a Saturday night in August, 1,388 may represent the population of the East Hampton movie theater plus the people trying to get a table at Rowdy Hall.

The crowds were back on Memorial Day weekend, when BeachDogs11937 held its inaugural cleanup. Anne Haring, who helped dispense T-shirts at Wiborg Beach, recalled the days when bringing a dog was no big deal.

There are more people, more children now, she said. There's also been the whole cleanliness thing about germs. People are phobic about germs.Mr. Gaines, who chronicled the excesses of the Hamptons in his book Philistines at the Hedgerows, used the phrase a sense of entitlement to describe careless dog owners, and worried aloud about the potential loss of a pleasurable morning ritual.

This is really the friendly, happy beach, Mr. Gaines said, gesturing to the crowd of people and dogs. This is a very important part of living here.

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