Rehoboth cleans up at expense of some dog owners DELAWARE

April 16, 1993|By Roger Twigg | Roger Twigg,Staff Writer

It's the doggone law.

If you don't believe it, ask Roberta A. Hoffman of Hagerstown, Donna G. Brown of Baltimore, Leslie E. Hayes of Philadelphia or Gary R. Mosher of Bluemont, Va.

All were found guilty of allowing their dogs to run free on the boardwalk or beach at Rehoboth Beach, Del. They were fined $44.50 apiece.

The son of a diplomat from Spain escaped prosecution by claiming diplomatic immunity.

"We have adopted a strict attitude about this," said Creig W. Doyle, Rehoboth's police chief. "I'm tired of all the excuses."

Chief Doyle was referring to a 49-year-old city ordinance that makes it unlawful to take dogs on Rehoboth's boardwalk and beach during the prime tourist season which runs from April 1 to Sept. 30.

The town has a year-round population of about 1,800 and swells to approximately 80,000 in the spring and summer. Many of the visitors are from Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The get-tough policy was announced in a media blitz earlier this year. Chief Doyle said it was initiated after talks with Mayor Samuel R. Cooper, and the town manager, about problems of health and safety caused by the dogs.

A study by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control showed that the ocean waters off the resort town had a high bacterial count caused primarily by uncontrolled street drainage and dog feces, the chief of police said.

He said efforts to curtail business owners from washing trash into the drainage system has been rather successful and police are now looking at the other half of the problem -- dog excrement.

The town also has a leash law that requires people to keep control of their dogs at all times and a "pooper scooper" ordinance that requires them to clean up after their pets.

Violators of the three ordinances face arrest and fines of $25 to $100.

Chief Doyle said three people were arrested earlier this year for violations of the leash law.

Since April 1, another 15 people were arrested for having their dogs on the beach or boardwalk. All but three were found guilty. Two of those are still awaiting trial and the third person -- whose father is a diplomat from Spain -- received diplomatic immunity from prosecution.

"Treat this lightly," said Chief Doyle, a retired Washington, D.C., police lieutenant. "It's not like we are going to go out and handcuff everyone who comes down here. Let's keep this in perspective. It's truly a health problem. Children who come in contact with dog feces on the beach or boardwalk risk contracting ringworms."

The chief said people who visit the ocean resort should "come here and have a good time and remember you're coming into someone else's hometown."

Three beach resorts to the south -- Dewey Beach, Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island -- have similar laws, but do not enforce them as rigidly, he said.

In Ocean City, police Sgt. William F. Bunting said that while police are concerned about the problems caused by dogs, they don't plan any special enforcement.

"We have quite a few animal complaints," Sergeant Bunting said. "I'd say it's quite a problem. People just let their dogs go and do their business anywhere." He said violators are given civil citations similar to a traffic ticket that can be paid immediately or contested in court.

Fines range from $25 to $250, the sergeant said.

"I think that is really the only thing we can do. Delaware works a little different than Maryland," he said with a laugh.

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