Southern New Jersey’s dogs can romp leash-free, legally, in precious few public places, almost none of them sandy.

Next week, Brigantine could become the only area municipality to designate a beach for untethered dogs, even as other towns are cracking down on the practice.

“People were letting dogs off leash, and we were getting complaints,” said Kathy McPherson, township manager for Lower Township, Cape May County. The township last year began more closely monitoring whether owners leash and clean up after their dogs on its Delaware Bay beaches.

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McPherson did not know of any other area municipality that allows unleashed dogs — a belief borne out in a survey of southern New Jersey’s municipal clerks and code books. She said she does not necessarily oppose the idea, given the right circumstances.

The beach Brigantine is considering is on the Absecon Inlet and does not connect to the much longer ocean beach.

“I think it’s a great idea if you can do it, because dogs love to run on the beach and go in the water,” McPherson said.

A historically popular destination for dogs at play is the Malibu Beach Wildlife Management Area, in Egg Harbor Township, a small state-owned beach in the Great Egg Harbor Inlet where a dredge project has disrupted things since September.

The general policy at wildlife management areas is not to require leashes, since many of them are hunting destinations, said Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Darlene Yuhas. But, she cautioned, “We do always require responsible pet ownership. ... Certain times of year, nesting birds are present, so we rope off those areas. It’s just common sense to keep your dog on a leash.”

Dogs are also banned from boardwalks in cities such as Ventnor. Said clerk Sandra Biagi with a laugh, “We’re ‘people first’ — your doggies are second.”

Most shore towns allow leashed dogs on the beach in the off-season, but not in the summer. Dog bans begin as early as March 1 in Avalon and as late as June 1  in neighboring Stone Harbor, among other places.

Stone Harbor also began in 2008 setting aside a three-block section of beach as dog friendly in the summer, albeit only before 9 a.m. and after 7 p.m.

Borough leaders will probably decide in March whether to reinstate the practice for another year.

“We did have some problems,” said clerk Suzanne Stanford.

Another leashless doggie destination opened in 2006 in Ocean City, and the city is trying to divert dog traffic there from the beach.

“At times, it can be a nuisance to the residents and visitors,” said City Administrator James Rutala. “For the most part, they comply with the rules and use the dog park.”

Brigantine’s “dog beach” would be open to cavorting canines only from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 6 p.m. to sunset. The City Council’s final vote, a response to a petition from more than 200 dog lovers, is scheduled for Jan. 20.

If Brigantine didn’t have a beach annex separate from the “front beach,” it wouldn’t have considered the leashless provision, said Councilman Robert Solari, president of the beach committee.

“This was the best compromise that we could come up with, as isolated as we could get during the summer,” Solari said. “You can’t use the north end during the summer because the greenheads would suck you dry.”

The council passed the bill 6-1 on introduction, and Solari predicts it will become law.

“We’re a very accommodating community as far as beach usage,” said Solari, pointing out beach allowances such as personal watercraft, vehicle access and cooking. “Hopefully, there won’t be any incidents, and people will be respectful and mindful of the regulations that we have, and just play nice.”

Dog parks near you

Barnegat Light, West 10th Street

Brigantine, 42nd Street

recreation complex

Margate, Fremont and Argyle avenues

Ocean City, 45th Street and Haven Avenue

Upper Township, 1700 Mount Pleasant-Tuckahoe Road

Cape May, 705 Lafayette St.

Contact Eric Scott Campbell:

609-272-7227

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