Mind your dog’s manners


August. Early evening. You arrive with your partner and your dog, Missy Manners, for a picnic dinner at Lambert’s Cove beach, your West Tisbury LCB Dog Permit around your neck, Missy leashed. As you stroll hand-in-hand down the scenic path, you pass several not-so-scenic plastic bags of dog feces deposited alongside. Perhaps they belong to that woman coming from the beach with two Labradors. Neither is leashed as they trot toward the parking lot. Dog Number One rushes over to you and jumps up playfully, not knowing about your recent hip replacement. Your partner steadies you and shouts, “Please get your dogs!”

The woman smiles but does nothing. “Oh, he’s friendly,” she says. She continues on her way with Number One, not noticing that behind her, Dog Number Two is, well, doing Number Two mid-trail. You tiptoe around the steaming pile.

Now here’s a Rottweiler. “At least this one’s on a leash,” you think, as the dog growls ominously. The owner holds his collar tightly but Growly still lunges at Missy as you squeeze past on the narrow path. Finally, you reach the beach, spread your blanket, and open that box of Sandy’s fish and chips. Yum. Suddenly, a sopping wet sheltie races past, flinging sand everywhere. “Sandy, Sandy,” the owner calls ineffectually, as the dog snatches your tartar sauce and departs.

Let’s face it. Many of us Islanders (and Island visitors) love our dogs, love our freedom, and love our dogs’ freedom. But in the words of beloved West Tisbury Animal Control Officer, 20-year veteran Joannie Jenkinson, “The beach is not a dog park.”

On many Island beaches dogs are banned completely during the summer season — Lucy Vincent, Squibnocket, Menemsha. Dogs are prohibited at all times from Edgartown’s Bend In The Road Beach and South Beach and also from Joseph A. Sylvia State Beach at any time from April 1 to August 31. My neighborhood beach, Lambert’s Cove, is closed to dogs between 10 am and 6:30 pm and West Tisbury Parks and Recreation dog permits are required off-hours.

Whatever your favorite swimming hole, if pups are permitted, it behooves owners to act responsibly. There are rules. There is common sense, and common courtesy.

“Right now it’s like doggie daycare with no babysitter,” Joannie says about the current LCB situation. “When you go to the beach with the dog, you’re going for the dog, not for yourself. Take the dog. Let it go for a swim. Then get off the beach. Let people enjoy the sunset.”

About a decade ago, complaints from beach-goers led the town of West Tisbury to consider banning dogs at LCB, but local dog-lovers, spearheaded by volunteers Steve and Joyce Maxner, led a highly successful effort to educate owners and promote community cooperation. Things went swimmingly for a while. Then, a few years back, an elderly woman was knocked over by an unleashed dog and badly hurt. The town instituted the Dog Permit system and strongly reiterated the need for dog owners to enforce conscientious “self-policing.” Again, things improved…temporarily. Perhaps it’s just human nature. Perhaps there’s a new crop of dog walkers that don’t know the history. Whatever it is, escalating complaints about unleashed pooches, animal feces, and general canine unruliness have once again ignited the dogs versus beach controversy. So listen up, folks.

Missy Manners says please keep your dog on a leash whenever and wherever required. This means from the moment Rowdy gets out of the car, all the way down the LCB path, and back. “I’d like to see dogs leashed right up to the water’s edge,” Joannie comments. Some locales require dogs to be leashed at all times. Check the rules. If dogs are allowed off-leash, that doesn’t mean you stop paying attention. Keep Rowdy and Sandy away from wildlife and ecologically fragile dunes. Do not let them bother people.

Here’s a secret. Not everyone likes dogs. (Gasp!) No. Really. Some people are even afraid of them. It’s not your job to tell them to get over it. It is your job to make sure Growly doesn’t scare them more. Where literal leashes are not required, Sandy should still be on a “verbal leash.” Screaming his name frantically while he plays Catch Me If You Can does not constitute a verbal leash. If Sandy does not respond reliably to the command “Come,” don’t let him off-leash.

“I counted 25 dogs at the beach one evening,” Joannie reports “Get that many dogs together, eventually you’re gonna have a problem.”

Even dogs that play well with others will occasionally get over-stimulated and fight. It’s normal canine behavior. If a spat occurs, talk to the other dog’s owner — like an auto accident, where you exchange insurance information. If either animal incurs a bite wound, there are state quarantine laws involved. Knowing how to contact all parties involved for rabies vaccination information will minimize the inconvenience for everyone. If Growly is particularly aggressive, keep him off the beach, especially in summer. If you insist on bringing him, keep him leashed at all times and be prepared that loose dogs may approach him.

Finally, scoop the poop. Take it home with you. Do not leave it by the trail. Even if you mean to get it later. Nobody wants to look at your dog’s bag of feces. Ever. Do not put it in the porta-potty. No kidding. Island beaches are Carry In, Carry Out. Put it in your backpack. Put it in your car. Put it…well, you get the gist. West Tisbury Parks and Recreation, God bless ’em, have once again agreed to give dog owners a chance to rectify the LCB situation. To volunteer for the community dog-owner education project, e-mail michaeladell@aol.com.

And no matter where you walk Missy Manners — the State Forest or State Beach, Cedar Tree Neck or Lambert’s Cove — be courteous. Be responsible. Know the rules and follow them. If we want to keep the privilege of taking our dogs to these places, we must respect other people’s right to enjoy the Island without Sandy, Growly, Rowdy, or Dog Number Two.