Your Monthly Bill

January 23, 2010 by  
Filed under Your Monthly Bill

Are We Ready for Dogs on the Beach?

with Bill Gillespie

There has been much scuttlebutt around our fine drinking establishments that this could really be the year!  The year for what, you ask: “Dogs on the Beach, at Tybee.”  Many believe it is an idea whose time has come again.  In just over two months, a FaceBook group site called Dogs on Beach, Tybee, Georgia, garnered over 3000 supporters.  The group includes Tybee residents, Savannahians, Chatham County residents, former tourists and potential tourists.  They all are asking for trial access, and soon.  There are some great advantages and possibly some not so nice side effects for dogs on our beaches.

Locally Hilton Head, St. Simons, Jekyll, Amelia Islands, and Jacksonville all allow some form of dog access on their beaches.  It appears they have worked through all the tough issues – water quality, policy, enforcement, education, and self-regulation and compliance.  These locations are well marketed and published in all state, national and international vacation guides.  Jekyll Island is actually ranked number ten in the USA, “Best Dog Beaches.”  For these beach locations, dog access has been a win for residents, tied to quality of life improvement, and a win for tourists and tourist related businesses.   Tybee could use a win-win, especially all year ‘round.

Tampa Bay, Florida and Venice Beach, California are two examples of dog beach access being an economic windfall.  These two dog friendly cities like the results of being dog friendly, since dog owners spend more, stay longer and are a step up in socioeconomic demographics from the regular tourist.   Pets and the pet industry have proved to be recession proof.  A whopping 55% of American tourists vacation with their pet (Atlanta Magazine, 2/2009).  Dog beach access can benefit a community in many other positive ways, including raised property values; people moving to the area to be close to the dog park; a safer neighborhood; a sense of community where people can socialize, network and make friends; and of course happy, socialized dogs who make better pets and neighbors.

Our own local tourist study by Georgia Tech business students supports a positive dog access outcome for Tybee.  The tourism study on those that vacation on Tybee called the typical extended stay visitors, “educated professionals, conservative, upper –to middle income, and married couples with children.”  This classification fits the “responsible dog owner” profile perfectly, and could be a starting point for further research, discussion, and a trial for dogs on Tybee beaches.

Many residents are rightly worried about legal issues, water quality and irresponsible folks leaving behind poop.  However, studies after study say otherwise, in fact, these issues can’t be substantially documented, according to a California state study examining 56 dog beaches.  People in general are responsible, and help to police each other.  Even Georgia DNR cannot link dog waste to any water quality issues.  As for transmitted parasites like roundworm, ringworm, and hookworm, they have not been a serious issue on southern beaches in decades; monthly heartworm medicine kills these parasites in dogs, as does sun and air exposure. Many vets and medical doctors believe media and government officials would do better promoting the use of sun screen, protective clothing and water safety than focusing on E. Coli bacteria, sand borne diseases and dog disease transmission to humans – all just are extremely rare (Health Facts and Fear, American Council on Science and Health).

These tough economic times call for some additional thought and leadership.  Tybee loses out on millions of dollars of tourist revenue because of the dog restriction. Many Atlantans vacation on Hilton Head and St. Simons because they want to vacation with their pet dog.  Additionally, our housing market suffers because it is hard to attract retirees with dogs.  Tourists and beach home buyers have many options out there, and very close by.  There are many good dog access options: limited hours, seasonal access only, designated areas, access fees, and volunteer beach marshals.  Easing the restriction could be an economic windfall and win-win for all.  It has been for all the other beach areas cited that allow access.  Is it time for a Tybee beach test and trial area?
Think about it!
Bill

Columnist Bill Gillespie is a retired Army Corps of Engineers Lieutenant Colonel. Currently, he’s a part-time History Professor, at AASU, an Army Retirement Career Coach at Ft. Stewart, and an active citizen and proud Tybee community member.
Contact contributing writer, Bill Gillespie by e-mail at william.gillespie@us.army.mil.

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