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Beaches: County won’t follow town’s lead on leash law

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Some residents at the Litchfield Beaches would like to see Georgetown County follow the example of the town of Pawleys Island in ending the ability of owners to let their dogs off the leash on the beach. County Council Member John Thomas said he considered proposing that change earlier this year, but decided against it.

“It’s a thorny issue,” the North Litchfield resident said. “I think a lot of people would be unhappy with me if I did that. I’m just going to leave it as it is.”

The county allows dogs on the beach to be off the leash from 7 p.m. to 9 a.m. as long as the dogs are “under the affirmative control of the owner.” That runs counter to state law, which requires dogs to be on a leash whenever they are off the owner’s property. (There is an exception for hunting dogs in the appropriate season.)

Pawleys Island used to have a leash law similar to the county’s, but changed it in 2009 to follow the state law. This year, the town revised the law to make it clear that it applies to dogs in the surf, where police had allowed people to unleash dogs playing in the water. Officials said people took advantage of the unwritten exception to walk their dogs, which ended up bothering beachgoers.

Board members of the Litchfield Beaches Property Owners Association last week discussed asking Georgetown County to change the signs at the beach accesses to reflect the state law. “The state law is the law that’s enforced,” board member Vin Petreccia said.

“I can’t walk my dogs” because of the unleashed dogs, board member Charlie Baker said. He suggested the association change the signs since it also maintains the walkways.

“They’re county walkways. The county has to put up the signs,” Ladd Dezendorf, the association president, said. He hasn’t heard many complaints about unleashed dogs, he said after the meeting. He used to walk his cockapoo off the leash. “Now we don’t even take her down to the beach,” he said.

Thomas walks his two golden retrievers on a leash. They become aggressive when approached by unleashed dogs, he said. Thomas would also like the county to change the signs. He wants them to emphasize the “affirmative control” aspect of the off-leash provision. “I don’t know how you convey that in a sign,” he said. “When you’ve got someone walking to the beach with an arm-load of stuff, they aren’t going to read the sign.”

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