Bark beach: These visitors are canines

Ann Paviglianiti with Maggie (left, in photo at left) and daughter Laura, 22, with Ellie, down visiting for the day from Gwynedd Valley. Wildwood's grand experiment has dogs being allowed on one beach.
Ann Paviglianiti with Maggie (left, in photo at left) and daughter Laura, 22, with Ellie, down visiting for the day from Gwynedd Valley. Wildwood's grand experiment has dogs being allowed on one beach. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 29, 2014

WILDWOOD - LuLu the Labrador arrived with a bounding in her step formerly reserved for Devil's Pool in the Wissahickon.

Here was a new treat: a boardwalk smelling of pizza, a long walk in the sand, and an ocean, whose salt water she immediately and regrettably lapped up and whose waves she startled from.

Hours later, LuLu was whipped. Fur and nostrils filled with sand, panting, having had the quintessential Jersey Shore experience: chastised by the lifeguards for breaking one of a sign full of regulations in place on the beaches of the Jersey Shore, when her owner let go of her leash in the surf.

"There's police patrolling and lifeguards and a truck patrolling with a lifeguard," said Maddy Romberger, 25, her owner. "So it's very well policed."

Why should the dog beach be any different?

Humans have long put up with a list of NO's down the shore (picnicking, alcohol, ball playing, feeding seagulls). So now, the dogs have theirs (excessive barking, treats or food, being off-leash, swimming out into the surf, being in heat - the other kind).

And yet.

Despite the leash buzzkill - at least for some dogs like the overstimulated Oreo, which reverted to whiny dog-toddler-ness under the constraints - Wildwood's grand experiment that began in June to upend a mostly dog-unfriendly Jersey Shore has for many turned Poplar Avenue into a nirvana of dog company.

Indeed, some dogs and dog owners said they found it downright utopian, that place where dogs and their owners can just be together (no, NOT over the rainbow bridge, but here, now, just over the causeway). As far as accoutrements, there is an abundance of poop bags and garbage cans; promised water stations have yet to appear.

So here they are, in increasing numbers, with the one-block-wide, Wildwood-super-deep beach tucked between amusement piers downright pockmarked with dogs on a recent hot Sunday.

What could be bad?

1. The dogs get hot.

2. These hot dogs (not to be confused with the $1 ones up on the Boardwalk) dig big holes under their owners' chairs for shade, and the chairs topple. (Looking at you, Clifford the chocolate Lab.)

3. Some dogs can't or don't want to control their bowels after emerging from a particularly great and rare ocean swim and find expansive relief under some other dog's umbrella. (Yes, Otis and Zeus, you crazy black Labs, that was you.)

"They usually don't embarrass me like this," said owner Tommy Hymer, 35, of Bridgeton, as son T.J., 7, averted his eyes.

Let it be said, though, as locals have long known, that sand is an awesome scooping aid.

4. Dogs used to being off leash get cranky on leash. Others get anxious with so many other dogs lurking nearby (See: Spot the Jack Russell terrier).

5. Dogs hanging on the sand next to their owners tend to want to tell someone about it, and so they bark at one another, which makes for a noisy sort of beach.

6. The wooden path to the beach causes a possibility of splinters in their paws. Ooo wwwwww.

"I'm not sure it's worth the two-hour drive," said a somewhat depleted Romberger, traipsing back with puppy LuLu (who may very well have disagreed).

For others, though, a legal, free, oceanfront in the summer, dogs-are-allowed beach was a modern advance on a par with the cellphone.

1. There were the perfect dogs: Ariella, the life-preserver-wearing surfer dog whose owner took her way out into the surf, and rowdy dog wrestlers, like the two never-met-before German shepherds Hope and Peyton, both cumbersomely attached to their owners by leash, but still.

2. There were the content little lapdogs transformed into towel dogs.

3. There were the dogs who laid straight out with their paws in front of them next to two owners who also laid straight out with their hands in front of them. Conversely, there were the dogs sitting up straight next to the people in upright chairs. How does this happen?

4. There were those dogs whose owners gave them half their slice from Joe's Pizzeria, located right across from the entrance. (A treat-giving attempt at Sam's, a block away, brought immediate police attention.) If your dog requires a more formal meal, the Rusty Nail in Cape May has a special dog menu this year.

5. There were the chatty dogs with the chatty owners, such as Levi, 11/2 years, a Labradoodle belonging to Chris Naughton of the Upper Dublin crowd with its own flag. Levi and Naughton rarely sat down and had something to say, pretty much, to everyone and everyone's dog.

Some dogs, locals mostly, spoiled by offseason, off-leash long walks along the shore, chasing balls into the surf, will find the dog beach a bit of a letdown. Though always better than being left behind.

Others will stick to the more lawless dog beach of Malibu Beach, at the foot of the Longport-Ocean City bridge, not an ocean beach and sometimes a bit of a rough canine hood, and not much swimming for humans.

Others will intuit the unofficial dog beaches of the Jersey Shore, like that one beach in Margate where all the dogs gather at dusk and nobody seems to mind. (Don't try this in dog-ticketing Ventnor.)

The Wildwood beach seems, at least for now, mostly embraced by summer visitors who previously had to leave the dogs in campers/motel rooms/home/back at the duplex.

Like Ringo, 3, liberated from the beach house to accompany mom Claire Hampton and triplets Delaney, David, and Morgan, a happy little Yorkie Poo - then, a shivering-in-a-towel wet Yorkie Poo.

Oddly, while people are banned from playing ball on the beach, the dogs are permitted a game of fetch, provided their owners can concoct a system that works with a leashed dog (high bounces, mostly).

This leaves lifeguards like the vigilant Kevin Bushbeck, 20, in the role of, well, those soccer refs: executing arcane rules the details of which nobody is quite sure.

"Ball games are not allowed," Bushbeck said. "The dogs actually are allowed, which doesn't make sense to me. They're allowed to play fetch on a leash."

On Sunday, lifeguards whistled at two men throwing a ball to one another, but when they threw it to their dogs, Stewie and Ronnie, all was cool.

"It breaks up the day," said Bushbeck, who left his chair to get LuLu's leash reconnected with LuLu's owner. "It depends how lazy I am. I just said, She needs to keep the dog on the leash. If anything would've happened, we're not certified to give CPR to dogs."

Bushbeck said that, all in all, he had more behavior problems stemming from the masses of high school seniors on senior week drawn to the Poplar Avenue beach - breaking rules left and right with their humping, drinking, ball-playing rowdiness - than with any leash-defying dogs.

"They don't listen at all," Bushbeck said - of the teens, none of whom even seemed to notice the dogs.




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