On Long Island this spring, the push to allow people, for the first time, to take their dogs to state parks and beaches is resuming.
Pet owners have understandably been calling for years to have long-standing restrictions lifted. Many say that there is nothing like the liberating joy of walking through an open space, like a coast, and breathing it all in, with your furry friend jumping and running. The question is whether allowing dogs to accompany their owners and handlers to much of our priceless park system is in the broader public interest. Other visitors have their own concerns about the quality of their surroundings.
Whether to lift the dog ban depends on that matter of common interest. It’s one of many issues today having to do with how we share public space and discourage and respond to inconsiderate behavior by a few.
A pending bill sponsored by State Sen. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood) and Assembl. Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) would allow dogs in state parks, except for the Adirondacks and Catskills parks upstate. Its text includes the laudable objective of the measure: “to promote coexistence between park visitors, dogs, wildlife and the environment.”
Making that happen could be a logistical challenge. An important aspect of the bill as written, currently before committees in both houses, authorizes park officials, perhaps region by region, to set relevant rules about when and where dogs would be allowed. For example, few people in Jones Beach will want their dogs to mix freely with the crowds of bathers and swimmers during the summer and at the playgrounds.
Appropriately, a general outline is written in the bill. Dogs would have to be on a leash, except in specific areas of the park. Dog grooming stations would be required, including trash cans and the availability of biodegradable trash bags. Wardens must take responsibility for dogs, which must be kept 100 feet from protected wildlife and nesting areas. And the bill clearly states: “Waste will be removed and disposed of by the dog owner.”
Skeptics can be forgiven for worrying about whether those essential rules will be sufficiently enforced. Similar scenarios in other states and jurisdictions should be studied to see how well they succeed.
Littering is against the rules everywhere, and look how much it surrounds us on Long Island. And consider all the neighborhoods here and elsewhere where poop laws are commonly ignored on the streets. It is reasonable to ask: Would authorities enforce debris curbs more effectively in open areas like a beach or park trail?
For those reasons, we say, as we did two years ago, that while it makes sense to relax dog restrictions in less-populated recreational areas, human visitors and natural habitats should come first. For that, we’d like a detailed assurance from top-down park officials that they could and would enforce the rules and really make this for the common good.
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