Hard Candy: Of Dogs and Beaches

The city is entertaining establishing a dog beach, and, for a city that certainly has its share of four-footed residents, the anti-dog-beach outcry on the paper’s Facebook page shocked me. Of course, “outcry” might be too strong a word, as only two people have commented at all, but what amazes me is that no pro-doggie beach people have jumped in to defend the honor of dogs and dog owners everywhere. I know, too, that opinions on Facebook certainly don’t represent the real world (for those of you somewhat addicted to social networking sites, the “real” world is what’s outside your window. No, your other window.)
Those who oppose a dog beach say that the dog poop will contaminate Boca Ciega Bay. Since I work Calypso into this column more regularly than BP comes up with useless solutions to the Gulf oil disaster, I think we all know what side of the fence I’m about to come down. Yup, you guessed it: Gulfport should create a full-time dog beach.
Those of us who live with dogs can tell you how very much it means to them to be able to run down a beach and splash in the water. These aren’t creatures with long life spans by human standards, and that hour of joy they’ll get from digging in the sand or splashing in the surf means more to them than non-dog lovers could possibly imagine. It’s not as though they have other outlets like bowling or going out for tapas with friends. Let’s not forget the benefits of dogs who interact regularly with other dogs: they how to behave around other dogs, making them less aggressive members of society. Couple that with a dog’s need for exercise and running up and down the beach with fellow pups makes more sense than ever. And don’t say they can get that in a dog park; it isn’t the same.
I had the pleasure of spending 12 years of my life with a cranky, neurotic, overprotective, wonderful Dalmatian named Madison. She went through a nasty divorce with me and never really recovered: she was mighty protective, got nervous in dog parks and didn’t much care for other dogs, but get her to a stretch of beach and she was a puppy again. She was a great friend to me and the best reward I could give her was some time at the beach. When we got in the car and headed to Fort DeSoto, she knew. Once we got over the bridge on the Bayway, she’d start to whine in anticipation. She’d run up and down the beach, blowing bubbles when she stuck her snout in the sand and then chasing those same bubbles, which created more bubbles… it could go on for hours. I had to put sunscreen on her snout and behind her ears, because she’d get sunburned.
My best memories of Madison were at Fort DeSoto, and my best memories of Calypso are on the water as well. I understand and accept that unscooped dog leavings contribute to fecal coliform contamination in waterways. But anyone who thinks that a dog beach will create more unchecked dog poop either doesn’t have a dog themselves or doesn’t visit dog beaches much. Dog owners at Fort DeSoto are much more effective at policing the poop than any law enforcement officer could ever hope to be. I’ve seen things get ugly at dog beaches when someone didn’t pick up after their pet, and the humiliation I’ve seen fellow dog owners put others through for not scooping encourages me to always- ALWAYS- have extra bags on hand when I’m at the Fort DeSoto Paws Playground. I am so downright thrilled to have a dog beach that I refuse to do anything to risk having it taken away.
When I hear talk about creating a dog beach, I think about Madison. She loved the beach. On the last day of her life, she couldn’t walk anymore, but I lifted her into the back of my Rabbit and drove her down to Fort DeSoto. I inflated a raft and sat in the water with her for quite a while, letting her float. Her nose quivered at the scent of the salt air, but that was all. After about an hour, I dried her off, put her back in the car, and together we drove to the veterinarian one last time.
I still have the collar she wore that day, and if I try real hard, I can still smell the beach on it. I wouldn’t trade that last hour or two for anything except to have her back with me.
So, to those naysayers, I ask you for this: please let us have a small stretch of beach for moments like that. They mean so much to us and everything to our dogs. I understand your concerns and am not discounting them, but I will tell you that I, as a dog owner, wouldn’t risk not being able to give my dog those moments of pure joy by leaving waste on the beach.
Let’s compromise: let’s see how it goes for three months, then decide. On behalf of Madison, Calypso, and every dog that’s ever yelped with puppy-like abandon when the sand comes into view, please let us have this.
Contact Cathy Salustri at Cathy@TheGabber.com.

Published by


I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.