STONE HARBOR - In a bid to make its beaches more welcoming to residents and visitors this summer, the borough has been allowing dogs on more than 40 blocks of beachfront, to the delight of dog owners.
But the new dog beach rules have created problems for police, who have issued 74 citations since June 1 for people who have let their dogs run unleashed.
The citations are only a warning to the owners, but the borough is keeping a close eye on how many are issued.
"At the end of the season around September or October, we'll take a look at how it went this year," Mayor Suzanne Walters said. "We'll make a decision then whether to continue the program or eliminate it entirely."
Before the entire beach was open to dogs, the borough limited them to a section between 80th and 83rd streets. The problem with dogs not being kept on their leashes was even greater despite covering a smaller area, Walters said.
"Last year, the complaints were constant," Walters said. "This year, I haven't really heard anyone complaining."
The Cape May County shore resort is one of only a handful of beaches in southern New Jersey that even lets dogs onto the beach in the first place. Other municipalities, such as Egg Harbor Township, Brigantine and Barnegat Light, also allow dogs on beaches.
That is not to say that people at other shore resorts do not try to take their dogs onto the beaches, even if they are not allowed.
Dogs are allowed on the beach in Ocean City, but only in the off-season from Oct. 1 through April 30.
Ocean City employs a part-time animal warden who patrols the entire length of the beach during the summer to make sure that people who bring their dogs onto the beach or Boardwalk know that it is not allowed.
"We're not there to give out tickets," said Ocean City police Lt. Steven Ang. "We're there to make sure that the beach is enjoyable for everyone."
Meanwhile, visitors for the week tend to take their dogs to the Malibu Beach Wildlife Management Area, located in Egg Harbor Township between Ocean City and Longport.
"Every time I ride by there, it's always crowded, even in the off-season," Ang said.
In Stone Harbor, dogs are allowed on the beach from 7 p.m. until dusk from 80th Street to 122nd Street.
Mark Vergnano and his wife, Betsy, a West Chester, Pa., couple who have spent a number of summers in Stone Harbor, like the changes because they can now take their dog Gabby onto the beach.
"I'll put off dinner so we can take the dog for a walk," Betsy Vergnano said. "It's really nice being able to have us all together on the beach."
But even the Vergnanos notice problems with some of the other dog walkers
"Some dogs are not as friendly to other people using the beach," Betsy Vergnano said.
Borough police say they are monitoring the situation. Police officers patrol the entire length of the beach looking for rule violators. They make sure that all dogs are on leashes of a reasonable length, that the owners clean up after their pets and that they are not causing any problems for other visitors to the beach.
Stone Harbor police issued 54 dog-beach citations in June. As of July 7, officers handed out 20 citations.
Police Chief William Toland said "a very high percentage" of those violations was related to owners not keeping their dogs leashed.
"It's usually people from out of town who aren't aware of the rules," Toland said. "You tell them once, and they usually have no problems afterwards."
While Stone Harbor's future as a dog-beach town is uncertain, many visitors are making sure to take advantage of the current situation.
Brian and Amy Lingobardo, of Dallas, Pa., brought their dog Winston on the beach to play. For them, the beach became an important part of their trip to the shore.
"It makes our family vacation a little better," Amy Lingobardo said.
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