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Southold summit will tackle beach leash rules

A sign posted by Southold Town Creek alerting

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

For some, the proposed leash law would have been too loose.

The second attempt at new legislation was too tight for the pro-dog side.

Now, the Southold Town supervisor has called for a dog summit to hammer out a compromise on new rules for dogs on Southold beaches.

An hourlong public hearing last week on a proposed law that would require dogs to be leashed at all times on beaches drew a crowd dominated by dog owners. They worried it would eliminate one of the key appeals of living on the eastern end of the North Fork -- being able to let their dogs frolic freely and swim.

A previous meeting about a more dog-friendly law -- allowing unleashed access when no lifeguards are on duty -- was dominated by those who said children and others who use the beaches were being harassed by dogs.

Supervisor Scott Russell said he realized that not everyone would be happy with whatever is produced. But he called for a less emotional meeting that has yet to be scheduled.

"Rather than hit at legislation like this is a legislative piñata, be constructive," he said.

Southold isn't the only town dogged by debate over unfettered canine recreation. On the South Fork, East Hampton Village has its own controversy over attempts to leash dogs near beach entrances.

A 1981 Southold law prevents any dog from being on town beaches, leashed or not. That law, to current officials' knowledge, has not been enforced.

Russell said the town board felt it was "too draconian," hence the attempts to craft new legislation. "We have well-used beaches," he said. "There's a growing conflict. We need to develop something fair to all sides."

Brian Keller, of Mattituck, said he takes his dog to the beach and lets it run free in the early morning or later at night. Like most dog owners he knows, he leashes his dog when approaching other people, he said.

He said the proposed law "is unreasonable, and certainly unfair to dog owners."

Dan Catullo, who said he was bitten by two dogs last year at Bailie Beach in Mattituck, became angry at the town meeting when Eugene Doherty of Mattituck, the owner of those dogs, questioned the veracity of his injury.

Russell had to tell both sides to stop yelling at each other. "Let's dismiss one myth, tonight: that this board rushed pell-mell into this," he said. Residents have been calling the town frequently with complaints about dogs, Russell said.

Some saw the current debate as a chance to raise new, albeit related, issues. Linda Auriemma, of New Suffolk, said people not cleaning up after their dogs is a "major problem." She said she'll try to introduce that subject into the mix.

"I thought, 'While we're talking about the leash problem, let's talk about the dog poop problem,' " she said. "That's the one that really bothers us in New Suffolk."

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