By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Rigby and Maurice became friends the other day in Sea Isle City.
Touching noses, they seemed like old chums getting reacquainted.
Rigby, a golden retriever, and Maurice, a Labrador retriever mix, bumped into each other at the corner of 85th Street and Landis Avenue while they were taking a walk with their owners.
They are among the many canines out getting some exercise every day during the summer tourism season in Sea Isle.
“We are a dog-friendly town,” Mayor Leonard Desiderio said.
He is considering a way to make it even friendlier for dogs.
Desiderio explained that over the winter, Sea Isle will be working on finding a location for its first dog park.
“It’s very important for people to have a place where they can take their dogs for a walk and it’s important for the dogs to have a place where they can play and frolic,” he said.
The city has already approved $25,000 to help plan a dog park. Desiderio mentioned two locations as possibilities, but the beach will definitely not be one of them, he stressed.
“Our beaches are not wide enough for a dog park,” he said. “And, unfortunately, not all dog owners pick up after their dogs when they are walking on the beaches.”
Dogs are not allowed on the beach during summer. They’re also barred from taking a summer stroll on the oceanfront Promenade. There are signs scattered throughout town reminding their owners to pick up dog waste because it is a health threat.
Under the city’s laws, dogs are not allowed on the beaches or Promenade from May 1 to Sept. 30. They must be licensed, leashed and curbed at all times, according to the city’s website. All dog feces must be removed by the owners.
On a narrow barrier island where virtually any property is at a premium, the challenge will be to find enough open space to accommodate a dog park.
One possible site for a dog park currently serves as a parking lot on 42nd Place across from the city’s municipal marina, the mayor said. It is known as the “clam shell parking lot” because it is covered with crushed white clam shells.
The parking lot’s location directly across from the bayfront marina makes it an attractive site. The property sits at the base of the John F. Kennedy Boulevard bridge, the main entryway into town.
In June, City Business Administrator George Savastano disclosed that Sea Isle has been approached by a company that has expressed interest in transforming the publicly owned parking lot into an amusement site, possibly a waterpark.
Desiderio, though, said the clam shell parking lot will be considered for a dog park.
He also noted that the city will look into the possibility of locating the dog park in the north end of town, between Fifth and Eighth Streets on Landis Avenue. Two new parking lots were built in the same area this summer as part of a restriping plan to make the Landis Avenue corridor safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Knowing that many families choose their vacation destination based on its pet-friendly reputation, Sea Isle is considering a new dog park as a way to keep both the canines and their owners happy.
“We have more visitors coming to town with their dogs. Some of them are service dogs,” Desiderio said.
Without any place of their own to roam, about the only way dogs are able to get some exercise in the summer is to take a walk tethered to a leash – unless, of course, their owners sneak them on the beach for a quick romp before someone calls the police.
Karen McCartney, a Doylestown, Pa., resident who has a summer home in Sea Isle, is the owner of the aforementioned Rigby, the golden retriever. She said she takes her dog for a walk “wherever I can.”
“He loves the beach, but we can’t do that in the summer,” McCartney said. “If there was a dog park, I would take him. There are a lot of dogs in Sea Isle. Sea Isle is very dog-friendly.”
Jim Smith, the owner of Maurice, the Labrador mix who made friends with Rigby, believes a dog park would be put to good use if it has some shade and “ambiance.”
“I think it would be cool. If it was nice, I would definitely be interested,” said Smith, a Glassboro resident who was on vacation in Sea Isle.