New Sharon Health Board Beach Rule May Have Dog Owners Crying 'Foul'
The board's regulation banning dogs from Sharon's two beaches from April 15 to Oct. 15 takes effect as soon as it is published.
Dogs will be banned from Sharon's two beaches from April 15 to Oct. 15 as soon as a new Sharon Board of Health regulation is published in the Sharon Advocate.
The board voted 5-0 Monday night to amend the seasonal ban it approved June 4. The board made two wording changes, both regarding exceptions. An exception for service animals or those "enlisted by the town to control pests" was changed to "enlisted by the board of health." And the board added an exception for "pets boarding boats in the boat launch area."
Violators face non-criminal penalties of "$25 for the first offense, $50 for the second offense (and) $100 for any subsequent offense," the regulation states. The regulation can be enforced by the animal control officer, police, the conservation agent, any health board agent, or any member of the conservation commission or the lake management committee, the regulation states.
"I think the board has adopted a regulation that I think balances properly the public health risk from a board of health perspective with people's desire to enjoy the beach with their animals when it is not going to be a hazard to the main purpose of the beach, which is swimming and playing in the sand," Chairman Suzi Peck said.
Dog owners have gotten used to a policy the board of selectmen adopted on Aug. 17, 2010 for Veteran's Memorial Park Beach. Dogs are prohibited from the beach from Memorial Day to Labor Day while the beach is staffed, or open for a public event, the policy states. Dogs are restricted to the path, and leashed, at all other times, the policy states. Community Center Beach prohibits dogs completely from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and only leashed otherwise.
Monday night's health board vote came three weeks after that board adopted the seasonal ban while delaying implementation while town officials and residents spent that period walking the two beaches regularly, looking for and photographing dog droppings.
That delay was "because there was a lot of differences of perception about the magnitude of the problem," Peck noted Monday night.
"What I was hoping would be the result is that there wouldn't be any, and everything would be fine," she said.
"Instead, we have unfortunately gotten conflicting information about whether there are or there aren't feces on the beach."
Vice Chairman Jay Schwab said observers have seen "zero to four" dog droppings daily.
Schwab and other health board members have expressed concern about children walking barefoot in and playing in the feces, exposing them to bacteria, while using the beaches during the summer.
"In the colder weather, bacteria, parasites, don't survive," Peck said.
Member Stanley Rosen said Sharon had "probably the only health department in the country to go into this stuff in this kind of detail."
Rosen said there "appears to be some improvement in an appreciation of the issue" since the board's June 4 vote.
But, "however people count this stuff, it's still there," Rosen said.
Sharon appears to be the only area community with a lake that allows dogs on its beach in-season, Rosen said.
Both the health and conservation boards have discussed the issue since a majority of voters at the May 7 annual town meeting rejected a proposed year-round dog ban at Veteran's Memorial Park Beach.
The health board's June 4 vote came after Town Administrator Benjamin Puritz and Selectman Richard Powell discussed with the board a proposed health board regulation amendment from Town Counsel Richard Gelerman.
The proposal, Gelerman wrote, sought "to reach a coordinated effort" among the health board; the selectmen, as Sharon's park commissioners; and the conservation commission, regarding "controlling dogs at Memorial Park."