It’s almost that time of year. Starting on Dec 1, dogs will be allowed at the beach, though there are strict rules.
Many residents are excited.
Many are leary of off leash dogs being aggressive or knocking people over.
And still others are already fed up.
There are simply too many dogs whose owners flout the town’s leash law, ruining a potentially wonderful experience for others.
And it’s not necessarily just Greenwich residents who will be at the beach. During the dog months, Dec 1 through March 31, non-Greenwich residents are allowed into the beach along with their dogs.
ACO Stacy Rameor, who agrees that off leash dogs in Greenwich are a huge problem, said enforcement is a challenge.
Unfortunately, Greenwich Animal Control will not be doing enforcement on Dec 2 and 3, which is the first weekend of dog season due to staffing shortages. (There is only one animal control officer on duty this weekend and she has to stay at the shelter on North Street where there are 14 dogs in the town’s care.)
Dogs are supposed to be leashed upward of the median high tide line and on all paths at Tod’s Point.
Greenwich Police Car 53 will be at Tod’s Point over the weekend in case there is an incident.
Also, on Saturday, a recently formed non-profit group, PAWS of Greenwich, is organizing an educational event at the beach on Saturday, to inform dog owners of their responsibilities, as well as provide information on dog licenses, and give away free dog waste bags.
Rameor summed up the problem, which goes far beyond scofflaw dog owners at the beach.
“A lot of folks with off leash dogs don’t see it as a problem,” she said, adding that most of the complaints Animal Control receives are from pedestrians, especially children and older people.
“They say, ‘Don’t worry. My dog is friendly and not a problem.’ Until there is a problem,” Rameor added.
That message seems to bear out based on comments from about a dozen Greenwich residents interviewed for this story. All view the situation as a quality of life issue.
Whitney Alexander, who lives in Cos Cob, said she is constantly vigilant while dog walking.
“You’re on your own in this town,” Alexander said. “You should be able to walk your dog down the street and not have loose dogs running off people’s properties and attacking your dog. You can never relax.”
Alexander said dogs are running around off leash in parks and on school grounds at all times of day. “Residents aren’t following the leash law,” she said. “If the town cared about it, it’s easy to get the word out. All they have to say is we are really enforcing the leash law, and you’ll be fined if your dog is off leash. It should be like a DUI enforcement or click it or ticket.”
Ms. Rameor said Animal Control officers do issue tickets. She said when people pay fines, they are sent to the Centralized Infraction Bureau in Hartford. The fines are $92.00 for roaming and $75 for nuisance, a category that includes dog bites. The fines are dictated per state statute.
Mary Hull, who leads Greenwich Green & Clean and describes herself as “a total dog person,” said, “An over enthusiastic dog jumping on a small child at the beach could create a catastrophe for life.
Hull said she’d like to see more opportunities for dogs at the beach, but only with discipline. She suggests a snow fence to cordon off an area at the end of the beach just for dogs to swim. “Why should the dogs be in the same place where the kids are making sand castles?” she asked. “And leave that leash on them for that swim.”
Hull likens dogs who are badly behaved to children. “It’s like going to a nice restaurant and having two mothers chatting with each other and having their children running around shouting. It’s the dog owner’s and parents’ fault,” she said.
Former caretaker at Tod’s Point, Mike Henry, said over the years he was bitten by dogs three times.
Petie, an employee with a local landscape management company, who is on Greenwich roads throughout the work week said, her greatest concern, besides having been bitten by dogs, is unexpectedly seeing a dog dart into the road. She said that at least two or three times a week, she’ll drive by a person walking a dog off leash and the dog darts into the road.
“I have a wonderful relationship with animals, but I don’t want to see people get hurt. My instinct is to try to avoid the dog,” she said, adding that while this happens throughout town, it is particularly common in Old Greenwich.
“People are walking with a dog off leash, thinking they have very well trained, lovely dog,” she said. “But an animal’s instinct – if they see another dog – is to dart out, and that is what I see.”
Old Greenwich resident, Hermine Brindak, who has a Maltese and a Maltese mix rescue, said she likes to take the two dogs to Tod’s Point in the winter months. She said after the dogs explore along the water’s edge at the beach, she walks them around the Point on leashes, but had a horrifying incident two years ago, just after rescuing the Maltese mix.
“Our two dogs were joined by my daughter’s Beagle puppy. All three were on leashes,” Brindak recalled. “We passed another dog, a Terrier, we’d seen at the beach earlier who had acted aggressively toward the puppy,” she continued, adding that she had said something to the other dog’s owner, but he had been dismissive. “He said, ‘Dogs can behave aggressively,’ but this was an innocent little puppy.”
Brindak said that when she next saw the other dog’s owner, who was with his wife, toddler, infant in a stroller, and off leash Terrier, they approached her on the path at the furthest point of the park.
“The Terrier was dragging his leash, and when he saw the Beagle puppy he leaped at our three dogs, including our rescue who we only had for three days,” Brindak said. “He bit her and was hanging onto her like a cartoon, spinning her around and around. He ripped off a whole patch of skin.”
Brindak said the Terrier’s owner said he felt terrible and offered to reimburse her for medical bills, no matter the cost. “‘I’ll pay. Here’s my phone,'” Brindak recalled him saying. And he did pay for the emergency care from Cornell University Veterinary Specialists in Stamford. Brindak said since the owner did the right thing, she was reluctant to animal control, but regrets that decision. “There are a lot of people who say their dogs would never bite. But they don’t really know,” she said.
As for her one visit to Grass Island Dog Park, the town’s only off leash park for dogs, Brindak was not impressed.
“It was disgusting. It was a muddy slope,” she said. “In Philadelphia where my daughter lives, there is an off leash dog park that’s fenced in and has benches for the owners to sit. It’s nice and clean and there are no issues – and that’s in a city!” she said.
Brindak said she wishes Greenwich would hire a monitor to walk up and down the beach and give tickets to owners whose dogs are not behaving.
Local resident Sarah Bamford, said she had a run-in with a large off leash dog when she was walking her Chihuahua on Old Kings Hwy behind Greenwich Commons.
“The dog ran out from a yard and up the street,” she recalled. Bamford’s dog was unharmed, but she said the loose dog kept jumping on her trying to get to her tiny dog, which she held over her head as she screamed for help.
“The other dog jumped on my back with his paws. I realized he wasn’t going to bite me, but he continued to jump on me to try to get my dog. I had to scream, ‘Come get your dog.’ When the owner finally came, he couldn’t catch the dog. It was running circles around me,” Bamford continued. “The last thing I saw the the owner running trying to catch his dog.”
Parks & Red director Joe Siciliano said, “People are going to do what’s convenient to where they live. Even having five dog parks might not solve the problem.”
Siciliano said owners may be unaware of the rules. “Maybe it’s an educational problem. People see off leash dogs and assume it’s acceptable. It’s become the norm versus the rule, which are different.”
Unfortunately, Siciliano said people in his own department have had encounters with loose dogs while mowing and weed whacking.
“There have multiple encounters in town parks between our workers and dogs off leash,” he said, adding that there was one dog bite that necessitated a town worker having to go to the hospital.
ACO Rameor said the biggest problem with off leash dogs is within the town’s parks. “When we have a free hour, we patrol parks. Dog owners send out texts to tell each other when we arrive. It’s just not easy to enforce. By the time we get there, they’re gone,” she said.
“We totally understand,”Rameor continued. “The problem is all over the own.”
Rameor said Greenwich is not a “leash only town.” She said the state has an ordinance about roaming dogs, but that says nothing about being leashed – just that the dog must be under its owner’s control.
“Within Greenwich’s parks, and where posted, the town has an ordinance prohibiting off leash dogs,” Rameor said, adding that she thinks the town could benefit from additional signage.
This differentiation between leashed and “under an owner’s control” may be confusing. Even more, there seems to be contradictory information on the Town’s website.
At the Town Clerk’s web page, the rules say dogs must be leashed AND under the owner’s control at all times. (see Dog Licensing Information below)
A Town of Greenwich’s “Quick Tips” sheet is worded differently.
The quick tips sheet says the Board of Health has the authority to restrict areas for leashing and cleaning up in the town parks.
They list restricted areas: Greenwich Avenue from West Putnam Ave to Railroad Avenue, public areas contiguous to Greenwich Avenue, Mill St in Byram, Greenwich Point from Dec 1-March 31, Byram Park, all public School grounds, all public park lands.
In all these areas dogs must be kept on a secure leash less than 10 feet in length and dog handlers or owners must provide for prompt removal of feces.
The fine is $25.00 plus State fees and a surcharge totaling $49 per violation.
Siciliano said he hopes the educational event at Tod’s Point on Saturday will result in changes in behaviors. If anyone has an incident, the Greenwich Police car 53 will be present much of the weekend.
Beyond that, ACO Rameor said in general if there is an incident, it’s best to report it to animal control or police dispatch right away at 622-8000.
“Too often people think about it for a few days before making the call,” she said. “People should call us the sooner the better.”