West Tisbury special will take up dog owner behavior

Lamberts Cove beach is a popular spot for people and pets. — File photo by Susan Safford

West Tisbury voters will go back to the dogs again, at a special town meeting next month. Selectmen met Wednesday, May 2, and agreed to revisit the controversial issue of dogs at Lambert’s Cove Beach during the summer months at the meeting on June 5.

This time around the central question of whether to allow dogs at Lambert’s Cove Beach during the summer is not up for debate. At the annual town meeting in April, voters narrowly voted to partially repeal a ban on dogs at the beach from June 15 to September 15.

Voters approved a new policy, that will stay in place for at least this summer, to allow dogs at the beach only during the morning hours from 7 am to 10 am.

At their regular meeting on May 2, selectmen unanimously voted to call a special town meeting to allocate funds for a new assistant animal control officer (ACO) whose primary job will be to monitor the beach, enforce the new dog policy and make sure owners pick up after their pets.

The special town meeting will begin at 7 pm at the West Tisbury School.

Selectmen said a new leash law may also appear on the warrant of the special town meeting, as well as a new policy to give the parks and recreation committee the authority to write tickets and impose fines to anyone who violates the regulations for town beaches or parks.

A new policy requiring pet owners to clean up after their dogs may also appear on the warrant. As of Thursday afternoon the warrant was still being drafted and was not expected to be completed until sometime next week. Selectmen voted to close the warrant at 4 pm on Wednesday.

The special town meeting will be the third time in seven months that voters will take on the issue of dogs on Lambert’s Cove Beach in the summer. During a special town meeting in November, voters approved an outright ban on dogs at the beach from June 15 to September 15.

The ban was proposed by the town parks and recreation committee in response of years of complaints about out-of-control canines and dog droppings at the beach. A group called Friends of Lambert’s Cove Beach then petitioned to place an article on the warrant of the annual town meeting to rescind the ban.

In the end voters agreed to a compromise of lifting the ban in the morning hours but keeping it in place for the rest of the day during the summer months.

Selectmen agreed to call another special town meeting this week following a joint meeting with the parks and recreation committee and board of health on Tuesday. Also in attendance were members of the Friends of Lambert’s Cove Beach.

Chairman Cynthia Mitchell started by explaining the meeting had been called to discuss how to enforce the new dog policy and also to address other issues of out-of-control dogs at the beach and owners who do pick up after their pets.

“No matter whether there is a ban or not the town has a management issue [at the beach],” she said. “The idea is not so much to re-debate the issue but to talk about how this can really work.”

Cheryl Lowe, co-chairman of parks and recreation, said her committee didn’t have the authority to enforce the newly approved dog policy. “We don’t have the money in our budget to staff another person down there in the morning without going back to the finance committee,” she said.

Selectman Richard Knabel said the new dog policy potentially creates more problems than it solves because the ACO does not time to enforce the policy, and the police do not have the resources to post an officer at the beach.

“It seems to be the animal control officer’s jurisdiction, and I don’t think a private group can police the situations with any authority without causing a lot of difficulties,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s ever been quite clear where the enforcement would come from and what department it would come from,” agreed Ms. Mitchell. “It has become clear to me that ban or no ban someone has to enforce it.”

Oak Lane resident Jim Aven, also a member of the Friends of Lambert’s Cove Beach, said his group was willing to pay the cost of a beach attendant who would greet all beachgoers and inform of them of the town policy regarding dogs on the beach.

Mr. Aven said the attendant could also help clean up the beach.

“The attendant [would] make sure the beach is pristine not only in terms of dogs but of trash of any kind – that is something we would like to contribute,” he said. “It’s not a perfect solution relative to dog control: we can only encourage people.”

Mr. Aven said most dog problems can be traced to non-residents.

“We are talking about the people who come here the other three months of the year. We have the most at stake here, these people here are there every day, basically, with their dogs . . . give us the chance to make the beach better,” he said.

But Ms. Mitchell questioned whether the town could allow a volunteer group to actually enforce town regulations at the beach. As an alternative, the Friends of Lambert’s Cove Beach could fundraise and then give the town the money, which would use it to pay someone to monitor the beach.

“Your goodwill is wonderful, but it can’t happen without the town condoning it,” she said.

Ms. Mitchell suggested creating an assistant animal control to watch the beach. “The town is willing to entertain a discussion and perhaps some of the enforcement or management,” she said.

Selectman Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter agreed the town should handle enforcement.

“I think the only way this is going to work, and we have to make it work, is to have a special town meeting to work out the funding…I realize the Friends of Lambert’s Cove Beach are doing the best they can and whatever they raise we can use to offset the costs to the town,” Mr. Manter said.

Ebba Hierta suggested the town put better signage at the beach to let people know they must keep their dogs on the leash at the beach at all times. She said the current sign says dogs must be on a leash on the path, which gives the impression that dogs can run loose on the beach.

“I found it very uncomfortable to say ‘hey your dog is out of control’ in the past because they think I am saying they are a bad dog owners… it’s easier to say no matter how good your dog is it still should be on a leash and no matter how bad your dog it should be on a leash,” she added.

Members of the park and recreation committee said they were working on putting new signage at the beach that clearly stated that dogs must be kept on a leash.

Town ACO Joan Jenkinson said dogs should be banned from the beach altogether in the summer.

“I love seeing people with their pets, but a few bad apples ruin it for everyone…” she said. “There’s going to be a problem down the road with people getting hurt by dogs… When the dogs get loose they have that pack mentality.”

Ms. Jenkinson also said the town bylaws need to be changed so people can be fined if they fail to clean up after their pets on town beaches or parks. “It’s very unhealthy for a child or [an adult] to be on the beach and they are lying in or digging in animal feces,” she said.