Southold to redo plan for dogs on beaches

A posted sign found by Southold Town Creek

A posted sign found by Southold Town Creek alerting dog owners to keep their dogs out. (Jan. 2, 2012) (Credit: Randee Daddona)

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Southold Town officials said they will likely redraft legislation governing the presence of dogs on town beaches, after residents criticized the proposal.

Town board members made the announcement Tuesday following the first formal public hearing on a proposal to keep dogs off beaches when a lifeguard is on duty but allow them unleashed access at other times.

Alarmed residents gave hours of testimony about the prospect of free-running, possibly aggressive canines. Some vividly recalled being bitten by dogs as children, and one man said he'd recently wielded driftwood to defend his dog from unleashed dogs. Town officials said the redrawn legislation would likely include more rigorous leash requirements.

That decision is unlikely to please everyone. "Do not prevent ourselves, our dogs, this little bit of pleasure," began an email from a dog owner that was read into the record. "I feel like I gotta stick up for the dogs," said Scott Boger, a builder who said he'd take his three water-loving Labradors elsewhere if officials toughen rules.

In Southold -- a town of about 22,000 people, 759 licensed dogs and six official bathing beaches -- the issue of unleashed dogs erupted last summer, when a retired doctor, Dan Catullo, 75, told the town board he was attacked by two of them. He said police told him there was little they could do since the town lacked a leash law.

The town clerk later discovered a 20-year-old law banning dogs and domestic animals from recreational areas.

Town Supervisor Scott Russell said in an interview last week that he received more than 60 phone calls and emails on the issue last month. "The reality is that dogs and owners were out there all the time. There were occasional incidents of an animal out of control, but generally speaking, that law seemed to be more strident and far more restrictive than anyone envisioned," he said.

The council recognized that "people love their animals passionately, and people are frightened about dogs," he said. "Those are all legitimate concerns."

But residents' questions about such things as leash lengths suggested the proposal needed clarification, Russell said. "We didn't necessarily get it right in that current draft," he said Wednesday.

The council plans to work on another draft in coming weeks, he said, to be followed by another public hearing.

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