Cape Charles Goes to the Dogs Over Leash Law

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By Stefanie Jackson – Cape Charles has gone to the dogs this time, with citizens at the latest town council meeting June 20 weighing the pros and cons of a leash law.

“Dogs are great … until they’re not,” citizen Jo Ann Bawiec said in a public comment submitted by email.

That sentiment was shared by several others, including self-proclaimed dog lovers who favor a leash law to ensure the safety of all Cape Charles residents and visitors.

Terry Carney said there should be a leash law, but it should exempt off-leash dogs that remain under the verbal control of their owners.

Cape Charles’ existing animal ordinance makes a similar statement: It is unlawful for a dog “to run at large … off the property of its owner or custodian and not under its owner’s or custodian’s immediate control.”

However, the law is unclear whether “control” means either physical control using a leash or other restraint, verbal control, or both.

But Libby Gray disagreed with Carney’s statement. Keeping a dog “under voice control is a joke,” she wrote.

“The dog is only under voice control until it sees something it wants to run after like a squirrel, bird, another dog, or child. … What happens if a child is bitten because we don’t have a leash law? Enjoy that lawsuit,” she added.

Several citizens said some dog owners insist their animals are friendly, but the dogs’ actual behavior is inconsistent with that claim.

Claudine Pierce described a recent incident in which an unleashed dog ran up and “sniffed my leg, growling loudly, as his owner shouted, ‘He’s friendly!’

“Last time I checked, a growling dog is not a friendly dog,” Pierce wrote.

Some citizens are opposed to a leash law if it means local dogs will lose the privilege of running off-leash on the beach at certain times of year.

Currently, dogs are allowed on Cape Charles’ public beach except from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. between April 1 and Labor Day, during tourist season.

Maria Raphael wrote that dogs get much-needed socialization when engaged in off-leash play with other dogs at the beach, and “dogs on leashes tend to be more aggressive.”

She explained that “dogs naturally greet from the side and don’t approach head-on and make eye contact unless a fight is about to start,” yet dogs on leashes are typically forced to approach others in a head-on stance.

If a leash law is enacted, Raphael hopes dogs will still be allowed to roam and play freely on at least part of the beach.

If not, Cape Charles will lose its “Eastern Shore charm” and become another “uptight metropolis,” she said.

Others added Cape Charles shouldn’t have a leash law when there’s no dog park in town.

Joseph and Lori Wagner wrote that the dog beach gives Cape Charles a “competitive advantage” when attracting tourists with pets.

The Wagners enjoy the early morning hours when dogs are permitted on the beach. Owners have “verbal control” of their dogs and “intervene immediately” if there’s a problem, they said.

But Jo Ann Bawiec has seen dogs enter the beach unaccompanied, with their owners “moments behind,” and “a lot can happen in a moment,” she said.

Large, unleashed dogs running together creates a “pack instinct” that Bawiec calls “dangerous.”

Joe Coccaro warned the town council of one unintended side effect of Cape Charles not having a well-defined leash law. A “vigilante” has been taking videos of dogs being walked off-leash, harassing the owners, and threatening to call police, he said.

Public comments on leash laws were solicited for the Cape Charles town council’s consideration, but Town Manager Larry DiRe has not yet made a recommendation to the council on how to proceed.

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