ORLEANS — Dogs may be allowed to bring their owners to the sands of Skaket Beach and Rock Harbor until Memorial Day Weekend for the first time in five years.
Acting as park commissioners, the board of selectmen was to vote last night (April 1) on a proposal by Natural Resources Manager Nate Sears to allow dogs at those locations from Labor Day through the Friday before Memorial Day while maintaining the April 1 to Labor Day ban at Nauset Beach.
Half a decade ago, Sears wrote in an email, “we felt there were too many different dog restriction dates for various locations in town and it was confusing for folks. We changed the dates for Skaket at that time to sync with Nauset. During our discussions at the animal control task force meetings, it was evident that consistency in dates throughout town was not enough reasoning to be overly restrictive at some locations.”
The Nauset ban from April 1 to Labor Day will remain “based on the prevalence of protected shorebirds and the effort to minimize oversand vehicle beach closures,” Sears wrote, while the summer restriction for Skaket “can be justified because it is a bathing beach where the water is tested Memorial Day to Labor Day and dog waste would be an issue during that time, not to mention the user conflict.”
“Nate deserves a lot of credit for this,” said Karl Oakes, who chairs the animal control and regulation task force. “He listened to us and he really looked at it.” Oakes was among those who questioned the need for Nauset and Skaket restrictions to match.
Before the change five years ago, people would walk dogs on Nauset in the spring and express confusion when stopped by Natural Resource officers, given that they were free to bring their animals to Skaket in the same time period. “My perception is that Nate did a real honest assessment of the priority of importance of various regulations to his mission,” Oakes said. “He determined that it really wasn’t mission-critical for him to have earlier dates on the bay side.”
The change of dates is the first alteration in town policies since the creation of the task force by the selectmen in August. Its charges include reviewing existing regulations, identifying town properties that could accommodate dog walkers or a dog park, and researching practices of other towns and potential funding sources. The group was invited to bring forward any proposed changes in time for the scheduled May annual town meeting, but Oakes said it became clear to members that “everything is vastly more complicated.”
Take, for example, the idea of raising fines for not picking up after your dogs. “Right now if you leave it, I think it’s a $25 fine,” Oakes said. “That’s not much of a deterrent, (but) it turns out there’s a lot of research that says simply raising a fine for something doesn’t deter behavior. There has to be also a greater expectation that you’re gonna get caught. This thing that looked like a no-brainer turned into something complicated.”
That’s how it went for a series of proposals, all of which appeared to require more study, with the exception of removing license fees for service dogs.
“Every single one of the proposals turned into an unanswered question, some more complicated than others,” Oakes said. “We know what the issues are. We know we need to make phone calls to police departments (in other towns), to talk to the Kennel Club and ask what they know about control definitions.”
In their talks with Police Chief Scott MacDonald, Oakes said, “he mentioned that people are reluctant to invoke the dangerous dog law. They don’t want to be responsible for having the dog euthanized.” So the task force has been looking into a designation in addition to “dangerous” and “nuisance” dog, a category that might be labeled “dog in need of restraint or training.”
“This would be a dog that’s not vicious but is nevertheless problematic,” Oakes said. “The owner needs to be woken up to the fact that… until their dog is more well-behaved or constrained, they need to put a leash on until that’s trained out of the dog or the dog’s grown out of that behavior.” Another issue involves defining the word “control” as it applies to an owner’s oversight of a dog.
One thing that’s certain is the value of working with Sears. “In my judgment, he has been very thoughtful and very objective and very kind of solution-oriented,” Oakes said. “Nate’s been exactly the kind of personality that we needed in terms of interaction with the town… He was the guy who showed up at every one of our meetings, the guy who’s really reading our proposals carefully and giving us precise, detailed feedback on how this might unintentionally impede his mission. Ever since Nate rose to the top as being the town person who was really engaged in the process, things have gone really well. Our meetings have been really productive. We’re getting the parks point of view in a way that’s really helpful to us.”
“I am glad to have been able to participate in the Task Force,” Sears wrote, “and feel that positive changes like this recommendation (for Skaket and Rock Harbor) will come from the process.”