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New proposal for Norfolk beaches

Jordan Crawford | 9/25/2013, 3:38 p.m.
Dogs may soon be able to roam around Norfolk beaches without a leash, which is causing concern among many city residents.

A new proposal may soon allow dogs to roam leash-free on Norfolk beaches. Many canine owners invite the new law, while other dog-less residents do not.

To get a permit, a dog must pass the “Canine Good Citizen test,” which is administered by American Kennel Club-approved trainers. About 50 dogs have been granted permits, according to Barbara Hays, director of the Norfolk Animal Care Center.

If a dog can calmly mingle with strangers and unfamiliar dogs, respond to simple commands (sit, stay and come), and will not have a conniption if its owners are out of sight for a few minutes, then his owners can receive a permit to take him to any Norfolk beach without a leash.

One attorney who lives in Bay Breeze Point near the water, Fred Sciulli, says the well-behaved dogs have rather unleashed canine anarchy in the Ocean View area.

“Dogs are running amok,” said Sciulli. He has made several calls to police and can see the loose dogs from his porch. “What they’ve done is create a 7-mile dog beach.”

Sciulli has won the ear and, in some cases, the support of city and neighborhood leaders. He wants council members to limit a section in the city code that grants dogs off-leash privileges on the beach through a little-known permit program.

Once a dog has the permit, it can be off a leash just about anywhere in the city, with a few exceptions. Even permitted dogs must be on leashes near schools, in cemeteries and at Town Point Park and Ocean View Park.

Sciulli drafted an amendment to the ordinance that adds public beaches to that list. He argues that the city has not applied the same limits that are in place at Norfolk’s 11 dog parks and that the permit program has created confusion. Owners who have not gotten the exemption see dogs without leashes and assume their dogs do not need them.

The result, he said, is that dogs have free rein over a beach at the expense of people. The unrestrained dogs can be threatening to people, and then there is the issue of feces.

“An incident is bound to happen, and the city seems to be holding out for that,” said downtown Norfolk resident Tanya Dawson. “I have a young child and I like taking him to the beach to play in the sand sometimes. What about other families with small children who enjoy beach outings as well? The possibility of an unleashed large dog bigger than my baby running up and harming him is unsettling.”

Kimberlie Young, an East Beach resident who is also an attorney, defends the new proposal. She has permits for her two dogs, and she entered the debate a week ago.

“Why can one person make all the complaints and change the law without everyone else being heard?” she said.

Young and Sciulli presented their cases Thursday night at the Ocean View Task Force meeting, where three council members attended. The issue is being handed to the Animal Advisory Board, which could discuss it next month, Councilman Tommy Smigiel said.