Long Island dog lovers have launched a petition to persuade New York State to consider opening more sites for on-leash excursions — especially by the water, though not where anyone swims, perhaps limited to off-hours or the offseason.
The "Lift the Dog Ban on New York’s Long Island Beaches" petition on the Change.org website has drawn more than 3,600 signatures since it was launched in January, said Peggy Heijmen, vice president of LI-Dog, the nonprofit that organized the initiative.
The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation oversees 14,000 acres of parks on Long Island that have at least some shoreline, the petition says, estimating 475,000 Long Island households have dogs.
"Dog owners pay taxes that support all this public park land, and yet New York State says people with dogs cannot have access to what I would say is everybody's favorite recreational resource on Long Island, its beaches," said Ginny Munger Kahn, president, LI-Dog.
"Dogs love to play and run in the water; we love to play fetch with dogs who are playing in the water," she said.
LI-Dog plans to formally submit the petition to the state when it reaches about 5,000 signatures, she said. Working with elected officials, the group says it has created 10 dog parks and dozens of on-leash walking trails since its start in 1998.
"Long Island historically has not been the most dog-friendly place," Heijmen said.
One of the group's focuses is underused areas or spots where no one swims, she said, citing the success of East Patchogue's Mud Creek Dog Park.
"We're not looking for beach access at Jones Beach, like parking field #4 on the July Fourth weekend," she said.
And perhaps limiting dogs to times of the year, such as winter, when there is no risk of disturbing migratory birds, is another option.
The Fire Island National Seashore's policies offer one possible approach. Pets are only restricted from March 15 through Labor Day on its beaches, according to the park's website.
Brian Nearing, a spokesman for the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, in an email attributed the ban on dogs at state park beaches to "long-standing concerns over sanitary issues and potential impacts on native wildlife, including threatened and migratory shorebirds, as well as delicate beachfront flora."
Acknowledging concerns that people do not always pick up after their dogs, Heijmen noted dog owners self-police dog parks. "Once you fought for something, you want to keep it."
Nearing, saying dog owners have gotten more access -- though not at beaches -- in recent years, said a dog park at Belmont Lake State Park — the first for a Long Island state park — should open by early summer. Current park regulations ban pets from disturbing other park visitors or wildlife, he added.
"I think a fairly underutilized beach all the time is appropriate, but if we want to start with a pilot program, and see how things work, we're happy to open up during the offseason as well," Heijmen said.