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Pawleys Island: Unless dogs are leashed, beach will be ‘Paw-less’

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Six generations at Guerry Green’s house have enjoyed splashing in the surf on Pawleys Island. It’s one of the simple pleasures. But this year they attracted the attention of a police officer. Green got off with a warning.

So the seventh generation of Green’s hunting dogs will be under restraint when they go to the beach. And the leash must be no longer than 20 feet.

“We need to be Pawleys Island not Paw-less Island,” he told Town Council this week. The council was sympathetic, but gave final reading to a revised ordinance that makes it clear dogs can no longer frolic in the surf with their owners.

Until 2009, the town allowed dogs to be under voice command when they were off the owner’s property between October and May and in other months from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. The town changed its ordinance to require that dogs be restrained whenever off their owner’s property when officials discovered that is the state law.

“We have taken a common-sense approach,” Police Chief Mike Fanning said. That meant allowing people to play with their dogs in the surf without a leash. “People took advantage of it,” he said.

Some would walk their unleashed dog along the beach, keeping its paws in the water. But the dogs didn’t always stay in the water and people complained about attacks.

“The No. 1 issue law enforcement faced was dogs on the beach,” Mayor Bill Otis said. One of his dogs was attacked by a neighbor’s unleashed dog. “I had to snatch my dog’s head out of its mouth,” he said.

So the town changed the ordinance again. A dog is “at-large” when it’s on the beach even if the owner’s property extends to the high water mark. “It’s a shame we’ve gotten to this state,” Council Member Ashley Carter said.

“I don’t think we’ve got a choice,” Council Member Sarah Zimmerman said, adding, “I’ve got a dog. She loves to be in the water.”

Frank Hipp, another property owner who spoke to council, said people who see him playing with one of his golden retrievers in the surf say “Gee, I wish I had my dog.” He told council, “I wish we could have a compromise.”

“I’m sure your intent was not to say no child can ever throw a ball to a dog on the beach,” Green said.

Georgetown County still allows dogs to be under voice command from 7 p.m. to 9 a.m. on beaches under its jurisdiction. It also makes exceptions for hunting dogs during a game season designated by the state.

Town Attorney David DuRant said the concept of voice command is “ambiguous.” But he suggested that the town might consider some form of certification for dog obedience. “You’d have to do some research,” he said.

“That’s what we should do,” Carter said. Council adopted the updated ordinance while agreeing to look at certification.

“It’s not always the dog’s fault,” Fanning said. “It’s the owner’s fault.”

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