The long-running debate over dogs on Lambert’s Cove Beach isn’t over yet.
West Tisbury voters, who agreed three weeks ago at their annual town meeting to let residents walk their dogs on the beach on summer mornings, are being asked back to a special town meeting on June 5 to decide whether they want to pay to enforce good behavior by owners and their pets. The warrant is expected to ask voters to back funding for a seasonal assistant animal control officer to patrol the beach, as well as to consider bylaw changes addressing leashes and litter.
The decision to call the special town meeting was made this week by the West Tisbury selectmen following a meeting Tuesday attended by the animal control officer, police, board of health, parks and recreation committee and a pro-dog-walking volunteer group.
Discussion ranged from cleanliness, monitoring, enforcement, control and bad dog owners, continuing a passionate debate that has increased in intensity since a special town meeting last November voted to ban dogs from the beach in the summer. Voters reversed themselves last month, deciding to allow dogs from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. from June 15 to Sept. 15.
Jim Aven, speaking on behalf of the volunteer group, Friends of Lambert’s Cove Beach, said the group has pledged to raise money to go toward a summer position to monitor the beach, as well as enlisted volunteers to help out every morning to make sure walkers pick up after their dogs and encourage them to keep their pets in line.
“The folks you see here have absolute control over their animals, they’re not the problem,” he said. “We’re responsible for [other visitors] and we accept that responsibility . . . we want to do the right thing by Lambert’s Cove Beach. These people here are there every day with their dogs. I see all of my friends here carry trash from the night before; these are the people that care the most about Lambert’s Cove Beach. Give us a chance to make the beach better.”
But selectman and board chairman Cynthia Mitchell said the enforcement issue was up to the town to decide.
“No matter whether there’s a ban or not, the town has a management issue about it,” she said. “We need to deal with this in a way that is effective and protects people on the beach and requires that the owners manage their dogs and control their dogs.” She continued:
“I don’t think it’s ever been quite clear where the enforcement would come from, what department it would come from . . . but someone has to enforce it. We’re going to need to do it anyway, and here’s a group [the volunteers] willing to support it.”
One potential solution was creating the assistant animal control officer position. It would be a summer position to patrol the beach and monitor dog behavior.
The parks and recreation department is also considering an additional position for monitoring during sunset picnic hours, when dogs are prohibited from the beach.
Beyond the issue of patrolling the beach, selectmen also discussed bylaw changes that voters may be asked to consider to give the town better tools to manage dog behavior.
The current dog bylaw, approved in 1975, requires dogs to be under voice control and requires them to be “restrained from running at large” and “kept within the immediate control of their owners and keepers,” but does not include a leash law. Selectmen and animal control officer Joan Jenkinson are considering amending the bylaw to require dogs to be leashed at all times, including on Lambert’s Cove Beach.
Mrs. Jenkinson referenced a state law that requires dogs to be on a leash and prohibits them from defecating on property other than their owner’s. The state law is recommended but not required for municipalities.
“Our town bylaw definitely needs to be tightened up and we need to have a special town meeting about dogs on leashes, especially in public spaces,” Mrs. Jenkinson said. “I love seeing people with their pets but a few bad apples spoil it for all of the good apples that are sitting over there to my right,” she said, pointing to the volunteer group.
The Lambert’s Cove Beach bylaw, which includes Uncle Seth’s Pond, is also under consideration for amendments. It currently limits visiting hours and establishes dates and hours for dogs and horses, and includes fines for violations. The parks and recreation committee is considering proposing an amendment to fine for litter, fires and animal waste as well.
Details for all the articles are still being finalized, Ms. Mitchell said yesterday, adding departmental budget requests may appear as well. The warrant closes at 4 p.m. next Wednesday.
West Tisbury resident Ebba Hierta urged a stronger leash law and better signage.
“The signage in the past created some problems,” she said. “They gave de facto permission to let Fido run on the beach. It made it difficult for someone like me who is down there . . . to say to someone your dog is out of control. I’m hoping you can come up with rule and sign that’s a little more black and white, like, your dog must be on a leash.”
Mr. Aven argued having a volunteer posted at the front of the beach would encourage people to “conduct themselves in a certain code of ethics.”
“There’s a lot of value to that,” he said. “We have 40 committed dates right now out of 90” for volunteers to be posted. “What do you have to lose by having someone sit there to say to people who are strangers, do the right thing,” he said.
“That won’t happen without a well-coordinated plan with the park and recreation committee,” replied Ms. Mitchell. “It’s a lovely offer, but it has to be approved by park and recreation.”
Parks and recreation committee member Lisa Amols said she appreciated the efforts of the volunteer group.
“I’m all for that,” she said. “If this gentleman’s group of people have a schedule and there’s someone there [at the beach], we’ll take [the issue] up again to coordinate it, but I think that’s fabulous.”
In other business the selectmen approved the first application for a charity wine pouring license for the Friends of Family Planning annual fundraiser at the Agricultural Hall on May 24. Selectman Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter 3rd made the motion to approve the license; the vote was unanimous.
“I think we should have a toast or something,” Mr. Manter said after the vote.