Little Traction For Relaxing OC’s Offseason Pet Rules

OCEAN CITY — Resort officials renewed the debate this month about relaxing the rules for dogs on the beach and Boardwalk during the offseason, but the idea appeared to have little traction.

Hoping to tap into a growing market, the town’s tourism commission this spring initiated a discussion about expanding the season when pets are allowed on the beach and Boardwalk. The Recreation and Parks Committee renewed the debate on July 9, and although the concept was not dismissed entirely, it appears resort officials are clearly divided on it.

Currently, pets are allowed on the beach and Boardwalk between Oct. 1 and April 30. However, a popular growing trend is for vacationers to bring their favorite four-legged friends with them. During a tourism meeting this spring, it was pointed out more and more lodging establishments are becoming pet-friendly in response to the growing trend. For example, there used to be just four hotels and motels in the resort area that allowed pets and now there are at least 20.

“More and more people are traveling with their pets,” said Councilman John Gehrig. “I think we should at least begin a discussion about relaxing our no dog policies a little between Labor Day and Memorial Day.”

However, Councilman Mark Paddack said he was not in favor of relaxing the rules for dogs on the beach in the shoulder seasons, strictly from an enforcement standpoint.

“I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said. “It would have to be complaint-driven and enforced by the police. You get out there and it’s a mom and dad and a little dog. What are you going to do?”

Gehrig said with some creative marketing, the town could become known as a pet-friendly destination in the offseason by relaxing the rules for the beach and Boardwalk.

“From a marketing standpoint, it should be couched in such a way that it sounds like an opportunity and not emphasize the times that you can’t,” he said. “We don’t want to emphasize all of the things you can’t do. It’s a growing market and we want to make sure we’re getting a share of it.”

Council President Lloyd Martin said he was not entirely opposed to the concept, but cautioned about expanding the dog-friendly season on the beach without some real enforceable rules.

“It could only be done at times when most people aren’t using the beach,” he said. “They get out there and let the dogs off the leash, maybe throw a ball 100 yards away and maybe the dog does its business far away from the owner. I’d say 10% to 15% aren’t going to pick it up. They’d ruin it for the other 85% that are doing the right thing.”

Paddack said whatever direction was chosen, there had to be strict rules about cleaning up after pets. He said he wasn’t sure if the town’s existing rules about pets weren’t relaxed enough already.

“I don’t want our visitors to worry at all about stepping in dog feces or dog urine,” he said. “I wouldn’t change a thing. Our existing rules aren’t anti-dog. They’re actually very dog-friendly if you follow the rules like keep the dog on a leash and always carry a bag, etc.”

After some debate, Gehrig said it was clear no consensus was coming out of the meeting and said the discussion could be renewed at a later date. The tourism commission is also expected to take up the discussion again.

“There doesn’t seem to be the will to do anything with this right now,” he said. “We’ll revisit this in the fall.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.