It’s a New Year and a new beginning… for some.
On Santa Cruz County beaches, it’s the same old story: wildlife and beach-goers looking for quiet contemplation of the natural world are driven away by packs of dogs running off-leash, and their owners who allow them to roam in violation of County leash laws.
Santa Cruz County has strict dog leash and defecation laws, making it illegal to allow dogs to run off-leash and/or defecate anywhere in the County away from their owners’ property. County Animal Services is tasked with enforcing County leash laws, in spite of inadequate funding that limits their ability to respond to obvious illegal off-leash activities on local beaches.
It is perfectly legal to bring dogs to County beaches on-leash, as a minority of dog owners responsibly do. Off-leash activities this time of year are not the result of visitors unaware of local laws. Dog owners on the beaches in winter months are locals, fully aware of local laws and regulations regarding off-leash laws. Many have already received warnings and fines from Animal Services, yet continue their illegal activities.
County leash laws were written to protect County residents, their dogs, other domestic animals and wildlife from harassment and injury from dogs running at large. County leash laws serve the greater good, sacrificing the absolute freedom of the few for the greater good of the general population.
Santa Cruz County beaches border the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which begins at mean high tide. The National Marine Sanctuary Act forbids harassment of any wildlife within the Sanctuary, which includes off-leash dogs chasing birds and other wildlife on the beach. Shore birds and other wildlife depend on free and unfettered access to beach habitats for feeding, resting and breeding. They can live no where else; reduction of their habitat leads directly to species extinction.
The County Animal Services Board of Directors has underscored its support for enforcement of existing County leash laws, and has recommend to the County Board of Supervisors to create enclosed and fenced off-leash dog play areas in existing County parks wherever possible. County beaches cannot be enclosed and fenced, by the California Coastal Act, so these off-leash areas will be established in existing inland parks, such as the large, fenced off-leash area in Chanticleer Park.
It’s time for all dog owners to be responsible to other County residents, obey the County leash laws and leave their dogs on leash when visiting County beaches.