By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Mack was barreling toward the beach like a big Mack truck.
The energetic, 1-year-old golden Labrador retriever was tugging furiously on his leash Friday afternoon while heading down to the 40th Street beach in Sea Isle City.
“He’s strong. If he was off the leash, he would be out in the ocean already,” Mack’s owner, Joe Dougherty, said with a laugh while reining the dog in as they walked along a beach path.
Dougherty and his fiancee, Lauren Mancini, both of Wilmington, Del., are visiting Sea Isle this weekend to attend a wedding. Although he won’t be at the wedding, Mack is getting in some beach time during his first trip to the shore.
His timing is perfect. Mack’s romp on the sand Friday coincided with the first day that dogs were allowed on the beaches and Promenade in Sea Isle during the off-season.
Dogs are prohibited on the beaches and Promenade during Sea Isle’s busy spring and summer tourism season. But dog owners are well aware that the beaches open up to canines during the quieter off-season months.
Dogs are permitted on the beaches between 20th and 93rd streets between Oct. 1 and May 1. The beaches between First and 20th streets and south of 93rd Street are more environmentally sensitive, so dogs are banned in those areas all year.
After spending the summer walking along the city’s streets and sidewalks for their exercise, dogs now have a gigantic sandy playground on the permitted beaches.
“This is a great time for Fido to play in the sand,” city spokeswoman Katherine Custer said.
Sea Isle touts itself as a dog-friendly town. The city tentatively plans to build its first official dog park in 2022 in the north end of town on Landis Avenue near Seventh Street.
In the meantime, the dogs will have the beaches as their unofficial park. Owners are required to keep their dogs on leashes and clean up their pet’s poop when they are on the beach.
While some people may be lax in removing their dog’s messes, Custer emphasized that the “vast majority” of pet owners are responsible and follow the rules.
Making sure that the beaches remain free of dog feces is a big reason why canines are not allowed on the sand during the busy summer vacation season, Custer said.
Dogs are also are banned from the beaches over the summer to prevent them from damaging the sandy nesting areas of threatened or endangered migratory shorebirds as well as harming environmentally sensitive plants.
Those restrictions are part of the city’s responsibility to maintain the beaches in agreement with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Knowing that many families choose their vacation destination based on its pet-friendly reputation, Sea Isle officials want dog owners to enjoy the shoreline with their canines during the off-season.
“Being dog-friendly is an important aspect of life here in Sea Isle City,” Custer said. “Obviously, many of our year-round residents, second homeowners and visitors have dogs in their family. Being able to enjoy having their pets on the beach is a very special thing to dog owners.”
Joe Dougherty and Lauren Mancini, Mack’s owners, said they specifically wanted a dog-friendly house to rent for their trip to Sea Isle this weekend. That allowed them to bring Mack down to the shore.
“He loves the water,” Mancini said. “He’s a swimming pool fiend.”
In addition to Mack, other dogs were enjoying their first official day on the beach for the off-season.
Jacquie Passaro and her wife, Jamie Lee Kircher, were visiting Sea Isle with their 1-year-old dog, Clementine, a Labrador retriever, Chihuahua and Mountain Cur mixed breed. Passaro and Kircher live in Philadelphia and have a summer place at an Ocean View campground.
Passaro and Kircher were aware that Friday was the first day dogs were allowed on the beach, so they made it a point to bring Clementine to Sea Isle.
“I think it’s nice,” Passaro said. “We can get out and take Clementine with us for her exercise.”
“It’s also good for her confidence,” Kircher added.
As if on cue, Clementine happily jumped up on Passaro and Kircher and let out a bark to seemingly show her approval.