Unleashed dogs on the beach

By Adam Kaufman
Legal Analyst
February 12, 2018 9:00 a.m.

An American Kennel Club photo. www.americankennelclub.com

The City of Fernandina Beach and Nassau County both require that dogs on the beach must be under leash and under the control of a responsible person capable of controlling the dog.

On Friday afternoon February 9, 2018 Special Magistrate Miriam Hill, an independent hearing officer, heard the appeal of Thomas Groff, a city resident, who admittedly on January 13, let his blind five year old dog run unleashed on the beach at Beach Access 8, which he referred to as the “only place I can let him off the leash.”

Groff described the afternoon of the 13th “as a cold, windy day and there was no one else on the beach within 100 yards.” Groff did not challenge the underlying rationale of the ordinance, but has suggested that he had not heard of anyone having been issued such a citation, at least, “not until recently.”

Police Officer Jorge Luis Hernandez, who was “assigned to enforce the leash ordinance,” testified that on January 12 and 13 he issued nine (9) such citations.

Groff stated that he understood that “there are irresponsible owners out there.” Groff explained that the reason he was at the hearing “was to vent” and that he was, at the time, “perturbed” by the manner in which he was motioned over to Officer Hernandez’s vehicle. Officer Hernandez’s body camera recording was partially played at the hearing and was offered to be completely screened. Groff did not believe that was necessary.

What Groff appears to be seeking is a reduction or elimination of the fine associated with the citation and that he instead be issued a “warning.” Groff was required to pay a $75.00 appeal fee.

At the close of the hearing the Special Magistrate made reference to the applicable leash laws and apparently alluded to the October 30, 2017 attack by two unleashed pit bulls on a woman and an unleashed dog at Beach Access 28.

A decision by the Special Magistrate is expected during the week of February 12, 2018.

Adam Kaufman, A Stephan Leimberg Photo

Editor’s Note: Adam Kaufman, a graduate of Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, is a retired attorney, mediator, and arbitrator.”  We thank Adam for his contributions to the Fernandina Observer.

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4 Responses to Unleashed dogs on the beach

  1. Chris Hadden says:

    Thank you officer Hernandez. This was a big discussion on the Ameila Island Facebook group and there were a certain percentage of people that didn’t like the fact they had to keep the dog on a leash while on a public beach and essentially implied they would ignore the law. Sounds like this guy was one of them. I am pretty sure if he pays the $75 next time he goes to the beach the dog will be on a leash. Problem solved.

  2. Teri Donovan says:

    While I sympathize with Mr. Graff’s desire to let his dog have some freedom, he was well aware of the law. Just because HIS dog wouldn’t present a problem the issue is other people see one dog unleashed and decide “hey, if that person can let their dog off leash so can I. It’s human nature. And, of course we ALL would like to believe OUR dog would never present a problem. My dog loves everyone. But he’s a puppy. And a very LARGE puppy. We are still working on his self-control. It’s just that he’s so HAPPY to see you. Also bear in mind there are children and people who may be scared to death of dogs on the beach. They have a right to be there and enjoy the beach without the fear of being accosted by a strange dog, regardless of its size or personality.

    Sorry but, the law has to apply evenly to be fair and enforceable. Suck it up. Pay the fine. Don’t do it again. It’s not rocket science.

  3. Joe Palmer says:

    As the owner of a Great Dane who frequently walks my dog on the beach, I understand the apprehension about dog owners allowing their dogs off the leash at the beach. Crowds of people and dogs running loose aren’t a good combination. Some pet owners are responsible and control their dogs at all times but, too often, the dog is in control. But the leash law is two-part. Not only are you required to have your dog leashed, but you’re also required to have it “under the owner’s control.” A dog, even a small dog, running loose at the end of retractable leash isn’t under control. It can bite someone before the owner can respond or get wrapped around someone’s feet or legs and make them fall. They’re also subject to failure at the point where the leash attaches to the coil. Many good trainers disapprove of them and they’re not even allowed in public in some places. If you’re going to walk your dog on the beach or anywhere else in public, you have an obligation to heel your dog because the only way to effectively control a dog, any dog, on a leash is at heel. My Dane, Harley, get very apprehensive when people walking their small, yappy dogs on retractable leashes come charging up into my personal space. It’s a recipe for disaster and, as any responsible, competent dog trainer will tell you, allowing your dog face time with a stranger’s dog is a recipe for a fight and injury to dogs and owners alike. Just because you have a leash on your dog doesn’t mean he’s under your control. Harley is required to walk at heel with us unless we give him slack leash to relieve himself or momentarily sniff out his surroundings. With patience and discipline, you can teach your dog to do this. If you can’t, you should keep them at home.

    That said, I’ve been guilty of letting Harley off the leash for a few moments on days when the beach is deserted or nearly so. I guess most of us who own dogs are guilty of this at one time or another. There really isn’t anywhere around here to let your dog run free for a few moments or even run into the surf and fetch a ball. I don’t like dog parks. Our trainer doesn’t like them, nor does our vet. There are too many variables to control at any given time. So, where does that leave us? I wonder if there could be something written into the law where an officer would have more discretion than to ticket an owner who’s dog is playing fetch with him if there are no other people within a safe distance? Maybe certain places on the beach could be more dog friendly at certain times of the day, year or season. Maybe there could be a designated area where a dog can be allowed off the leash under certain conditions. Zero tolerance laws are problematic a lot of times because they don’t take extenuating circumstances into account. If it’s a cold, blustery day in January without a soul on the beach as far as the eye can see, or at least within a couple of hundred yards, as is frequently the case, where is the harm in allowing your dog off the leash briefly as long as you can maintain control of it? Again, I understand that public safety is paramount. But maybe there should be caveats written into the ordinance that take empty beach sections into consideration. That would at least give a police officer broader discretion in deciding what to do.

    • Pam Hart says:

      I agree Joe. I had a border collie for fifteen years who would obey any hand command I gave her to a tee. She absolutely didn’t need a leash. I too have been guilty of letting my dogs play fetch on the beach when it was empty of other people early mornings. I’ve also been yelled at by a lady who had her dog on a leash and despite the leash her dog was dragging her towards me and my dog who was off leash but sitting obediently at my side.

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