Friday, August 26, 2011

Unleashing the Beach in LA

Why do these types of stories come from Los Angeles?

Last week, it was a lavish 25th wedding anniversary party for "Princess Zsa Zsa," and this week, it's a tale - or, should I say, "tail" - of unleashed dogs on LA's famous beaches.

Whenever I want to escape dreary news from the real world, I surf over to www.latimes.com for a bit of zaniness from America's sun-bleached, blow-dried Hollywood types. And usually, I'm not disappointed. Take, for example, one of the growing crises in the City of Angels: a lack of public beaches where dogs can roam free, without a leash.

Now, obviously, the fabulous coastline of the Pacific Ocean offers an amazing amenity to Angelinos - indeed, to most Californians - that they like to enjoy, naturally, with their friends and family. And increasingly, canine companions constitute "family," even to the exclusion of some blood relatives. Which, actually, is true of many Americans, not just Californians. But the fact that only three acres out of 75 miles of coastline in Los Angeles County are "dog-friendly" has become a real bone of contention for many dog lovers there.

Just being able to walk along the sandy carpet of the Pacific Ocean's easternmost shore with your dog on a leash isn't good enough for Angelinos anymore. They want their pampered pooches to have free range in more spots along the beach, where they can play Frisbee and other games, and, as one dog owner pleaded, her companion animal is welcome to do the activities she enjoys.

Which sounds more like the people who want to unleash their dogs on the beach are talking about their children instead of a pet, doesn't it? Of course, many parents today treat their kids as pets, but that's a different discussion for another day.

Are you as struck as I am by the emotion that's been fomented in pursuit of greater freedoms for... dogs? Let's be realistic: the freedom talked about in the LA Times article isn't for dogs as much as it is for their owners, isn't it? A lot of dog owners think their canine is the most wonderful creature on the planet. Many think nothing of spending hundreds of dollars on doggie day spas. Gourmet dog food can also cut seriously into a dog owner's grocery budget. These same people often consider leash laws to be necessary only for other dog owners. All of which makes restricting their access to three measly acres on the edge of the ocean seem ridiculously unfair.

Granted, as these grass-roots advocacy groups for oceanfront dog-friendly zones have pursued their agenda, they've been fairly realistic in their goals. They're not asking for miles and miles of beach space, but localized spots where they're willing to model good stewardship of the sand and water on a trial basis. They're aware that environmentalists - another fact of life in California - are skeptical about combining unleashed dogs with some protected species of wildlife, not to mention the piles of unmentionables unleashed dogs could leave behind.

So it's not exactly a full-scale assault on the tourists and non-doggie-walking denizens of LA that these advocacy groups are waging. And apparently, greater free-range dog access to beaches has worked in other parts of the state.

But Los Angeles is different in many ways from San Francisco and San Diego, which each offer multiple dog-friendly beach areas. LA's citizenry, as a whole, hasn't exactly proven itself to be as law-abiding and socially-responsible as California's other large coastal cities. This gives local leaders sufficient cause to be skeptical that something which works in the world's technology capital can work as well in, well, the city that gave us the Bloods and Crips.

Still, after a week of media overload on Libya, a 5.9 earthquake in DC, and a monster hurricane named Irene, learning that people can still focus on problems like beach access for unleashed dogs seems refreshing.

After all, is there a problem too great that a dog drenched in salt water can't make trivial by comparison?
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