Off-leash dog beach runs into firestorm of Shores opposition


Now-retired County Commission Chairman Peter O’Bryan’s plan to establish an off-leash, dog-friendly beach park has run into a firestorm of opposition from Indian River Shores residents and town officials.

While O’Bryan insists the plan is still viable, it probably won’t be at a beach access within the Shores town limits.

“We’re running into a problem with the town and some of its residents who are opposed to the idea, so we might need to look at Treasure Shores Park,” O’Bryan said last weekend, referring to the little-used beach on the island’s northern tier.

“It’s a county beach, so we can regulate it,” he added, “and there’s nothing to the immediate north or south, so you don’t need to worry about neighboring communities.

“There aren’t any lifeguards, either, so you don’t see many people swimming there.”

When O’Bryan pitched the concept of an off-leash, beach park last month, he suggested two locations – the county-owned beach access areas at Seagrape Trail or Turtle Trail.

Not only are those sites within the Shores’ limits, where they would be bound by the town ordinance governing off-leash dogs on beaches, but Seagrape Trail borders the Baytree and Marbrisa communities, and Turtle Trail runs along the southern edge of Palm Island Plantation’s beach club.

More than 20 Baytree and Palm Island residents sent emails to the County Commission expressing their opposition to off-leash dog parks on their beaches.

Two longtime Palm Island Plantation residents addressed the commissioners last week, providing a list of reasons they should reject O’Bryan’s proposal.

Saying they represented others in their communities, Dennis Dunlap and Robert Christiansen cited safety issues, environmental concerns and liability risks.

They said it was unrealistic to expect unleashed dogs – some of which might be aggressive – to stay within the boundaries of the designated beach access areas and not invade the neighboring properties.

They also voiced concerns about the health hazards posed by dog feces and urine on the beach, the dangers the free-running dogs would pose to sea turtles and their nests, and the damage the dogs would do to sand dunes.

In addition, they argued it was unwise for the county to assume liability for injuries caused by dogs who attack and bite beachgoers.

Most of the residents’ emails echoed those sentiments.

“I do have to stop here and note the irony that Indian River County, recognizing the inherent risk of dogs and people playing together, has categorically outlawed dogs in all of its parks while advancing an off-leash dog beach in a neighboring town,” Christiansen told the commissioners.

O’Bryan acknowledged that the county, if it opted for Seagrape Trail or Turtle Trail, would need to abide by the Shores’ ordinance, which was adopted in June 2019 and allows unleashed dogs on town beaches only from sunrise to 9 a.m. to from 5 p.m. to sunset.

Dog owners would also need to pay the town registration fees, provide proof the dogs’ vaccinations are current, and submit veterinarians’ statements that the pet has no history of biting people or other dogs.

“I don’t see us going there, but I don’t think the idea of an off-leash dog beach is dead,” O’Bryan said. “Treasure Shores might be a compromise that works. And for anyone who doesn’t want to interact with the dogs, Golden Sands Park is just down the road.”

County Administrator Jason Brown said he’s still exploring options and will report back to the commissioners next month.

Commissioners Susan Adams and Joe Earman said last month they were receptive to O’Bryan’s proposal, but Joe Flescher and Laura Moss were opposed to a county-operated, off-leash dog beach.

Moss, in fact, voted against giving the matter further consideration.

“Dogs are instinctual and don’t always behave the way their owners say they do, especially in an off-leash environment, so I have grave concerns about safety,” Flescher said. “You put them on a public beach with people and other dogs, and it’s a dangerous mix.”

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