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Do Dogs Belong on the Beach?

Many Santa Barbara Dog Owners Aren’t Following No-Dog and Off-Leash Rules


Living in Santa Barbara, we’re blessed with long stretches of beautiful beaches that are easily accessible for a number of activities. Year-round, you can find people sunbathing, swimming, picnicking, kayaking, windsurfing, and playing beach volleyball.

Since I grew up in Michigan, where I only had three months out of the year for warm weather activities, I try not to take our weather in Santa Barbara for granted: I do my best to be outside and at the beach most every weekend since I moved here over 12 years ago. The majority of the time, my family and I enjoy our time at the beach. But more and more frequently, our experience is marred by some less than responsible dog owners.

First off, let me start by saying that I love dogs. I grew up with dogs, I’ve owned dogs most of my life, and I’ve worked in animal shelters since I graduated college over 20 years ago. I understand why people like to bring their dogs to the beach, and I am in favor of dogs having access to our great beaches. However, it is important to note that not everyone likes dogs and not everyone is even comfortable around dogs; and people who do like dogs may want to relax at the beach without a dog pooping or peeing in their general area.

To this point, I credit Santa Barbara for recognizing the need to define both dog-free and dog-friendly areas on beaches. I spoke with Santa Barbara City Animal Control Officer Jeff Deming, who explained, “Dogs are not allowed on the beach from the eastern City limits west to Leadbetter. Dogs can be exercised off-leash on the beach from the Shoreline Park Staircase to the eastern edge of the Arroyo Burro Estuary.”

So really, Hendry’s Beach is the only beach that allows dogs. According to Deming, the penalty for having a dog at a dog-free beach is $150. If your dog is off-leash, that fine is doubled. And if your dog is unlicensed, it’s another $150. So you’re looking at a $450 fine for an off-leash unlicensed dog who’s running around at a dog-free beach.

Unfortunately, many dog owners either aren’t aware that many of our beaches are dog-free or they just chose to ignore the rules. On Monday, for instance, I was at Leadbetter Beach with my family on the Fourth of July and I had to do a double take thinking I stepped onto Hendry’s Beach. Within minutes of spreading out our blanket and setting up our umbrella, an off-leash Chihuahua came trotting over and laid down on our blanket under the shade.

My six-year-old thought this was cool and, forgetting everything I taught him about asking a dog’s owner if it’s okay to pet their dog, he reached out to pet the dog and the dog tried to bite him. The dog’s owner immediately came over and apologized and stated: “Sorry, he gets anxious around kids.” Oh, okay, got it. So you thought you’d bring him to a dog-free beach on the Fourth of July? Not cool.

Several minutes later, my three-year-old and I were playing soccer on the beach and another off-leash dog kept trying to take the ball away from her, to the point where it was frightening her. My husband finally went over to the owners and suggested they keep their dog on a leash. Mind you, this is all happening at a dog-free beach.

There have been multiple times where I was walking with my three-year-old along the beach and she was nearly knocked over by a dog running on the beach. I can’t even begin to count the amount of times a dog has peed inches away from my kids’ sandcastles. This may not be life threatening, but it’s certainly annoying. Especially considering I’m bringing them to dog-free beaches. And I’m a dog lover. I can’t begin to think what non-dog loving people are feeling.

Again, I understand why dog owners want to bring their dogs to the beach them and I’m all in favor of dogs being allowed on beaches. Most dog owners are responsible and only take their dogs where they are allowed. As parents, we aren’t taking our kids to a dog beach and asking the dog owners to change. Dog owners should be equally respectful.

For more information on Santa Barbara beaches that allow dogs, please click here.

For information on parks that allow dogs, please click here.

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