West Tisbury will get another chance at dogs on beach question

A family and dog enjoy a summer day on Lambert's Cove beach in this file photo. — File photo by Susan Safford

The West Tisbury annual town meeting will again go to the dogs next month when voters revisit the controversial issue of whether to allow dogs at Lambert’s Cove Beach during the summer months.

When voters gather for the town meeting April 10, they will decide whether to rescind an article passed at a special town meeting last November to ban dogs from the popular town beach from June 15 to September 15.

The ban was initiated by the parks and recreation committee in response to years of complaints about smelly dog droppings and out-of-control canines at the beach. The plan was approved by a close vote after nearly an hour of emotional debate on both sides.

The latest article to reverse the ban was placed on the town meeting through a petition circulated by a group called Friends of Lambert’s Cove Beach, and it would again allow dogs at Lambert’s Cove Beach before 10 am and after 6:30 pm during the summer months.

On Monday the Friends of Lambert’s Cove Beach hosted a public forum at the Howes House to discuss the issue and try and come up with a solution agreeable to all parties heading into the annual town meeting.

Under the guidance of longtime moderator Pat Gregory the discussion at the forum was always civil although there was still no easy answer to be had on the controversial issue. Around 30 people turned out for the forum, with some arguing for and others against the dog ban.

Members of the Friends of Lambert’s Cove Beach provided a handout outlining a plan to allow “responsible dog owners to continue to walk their dogs on off hours…with a system in place to address the valid concerns of others so we can all enjoy [the beach].”

Group members said that system would consist of a group of volunteers who would make sure dog owners use the beach properly and clean up after themselves, and also make sure only authorized people and their pets are using the beach.

The plan tentatively calls for using a separate path to the beach for pet owners at the other end of the parking lot, and possibly setting up a nonprofit group that would conduct fundraising to pay the volunteer dog watchers.

“We want to ensure only responsible dog owners use the beach and there are no problems for the other beachgoers,” said group member Pamela Putney. “I completely understand why people are upset about the dogs: there are some irresponsible pet owners that are ruining it for everyone else.”

Nicole Galland, another member of the Friends of Lambert’s Cove Beach group, said simply banning dogs will not eliminate the problem. There will still be scofflaws who bring their dogs to the beach, and the police have already gone on record saying the ban will be difficult to enforce, she said.

Ms. Galland argued that rescinding the ban and replacing it with a plan that includes volunteer monitors would improve the situation. “Banning the dogs will not mean there won’t be dogs. What we want to do is replace the ban with something better, something that works,” she said, adding: “That is why we want to hear from everyone, especially the folks who don’t want the dogs on the beach.”

Nelia Decker was among those who didn’t want dogs on the beach in the summer, and she argued that dog owners can still bring their pals to the beach nine months out of the year, even with the ban. She said there have been efforts to address the dog problem in the past, and they haven’t worked.

“We will have a problem with dogs jumping on people, leaving their mess, people leaving bags all over the place. Not having them there three months out of the year and having them nine months out of the year to me that is a compromise already,” Ms. Decker said, she added:

“In my mind I think we should support park and recreation. They are the ones dealing with this and this is what they recommended to us. I think a lack of enforcement is a specious argument because then why make rules for anything? If dogs aren’t allowed on the beach then why not enforce it?”

Ebba Hierta said the dog ban was approved only last fall and said the town should wait at least one summer to see how it works. “I think it’s a little too soon to say how this works because we haven’t even tried it,” she said. “I understand everyone with Friends [of Lambert’s Cove Beach] are responsible dog owners who haven’t caused problems, but I’m not even sure you are in the majority.”

Ms. Hierta said only a few beaches on the Island allow dogs, leaving Lambert’s Cove Beach as the beach of choice for dog owners whether they live in town or not. “These are people with no stake in West Tisbury, and they don’t care about picking up after their dogs, or if their dogs interrupt a picnic of knock someone down,” she said.

People on both sides of the issue made emotional pleas to either allow or ban the dogs.

“Lambert’s Cove is such a serene and beautiful place, where heaven and earth come together. You have this sense of bliss every time you go there. But when I go there and am accosted by dogs or I step in dog [poop] the bliss is over quick,” Ms. Decker said.

“I say live and let live, but do it responsibly,” countered John Hoff. “After work I like to take my dog for a walk, that’s my right. But if my dog poops on the beach, I pick it up. To some of us, that is our best friend, that’s our family. We want to take them for a walk on the beach, but let’s do it responsibly.”

The mixed emotions centering around dogs on the beach was best captured in a story told by Ms. Putney, whose mother was seriously injured at Lambert’s Cove Beach when an unattended dog jumped on her and forced her to the ground, injuring her.

Ms. Putney said it was an unfortunate incident, but one that did not sour her on allowing dogs at Lambert’s Cove Beach. “My mother hasn’t been the same since, so if anyone should be against dogs at the beach it’s me it’s ironic that people always bring that up,” she said “But my mother used to love walking her dog at the beach, it kept her healthy. She was always there walking her dog and she loved it – I wouldn’t want to take that away from anyone.”

Several in attendance suggested amending the article to allow dogs during the morning hours but not in the evening. Members of the Friends of Lambert’s Cove Beach said they would consider all options, and would also consult with town officials about the logistics of fundraising and using volunteers to monitor the beach.

Mr. Gregory suggested the group choose one spokesman to present the article at town meeting and thanked everyone for their decorum. “It would be nice to have this type of discourse at the national level,” he remarked.