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Dog owners unleash criticism of new beach restrictions


The new dog ordinance in the Town of Orchid is only seven pages long, but two years of background on the contentious issue includes hundreds of pages of emails from residents supporting and opposing canines on the beach.

Some dog owners in the upscale north island community of 450 people are angry over new license requirements and limits on the hours they can walk their dogs off leash on the beach.

A 2007 ordinance, now repealed, allowed unleashed dogs on the beach at any time of day under voice control.

Under the new ordinance, dogs are now allowed on the beach “on-leash at any time of day, as long as the leash is no longer than 8 feet in length. They may be off-leash between sunrise and 9 a.m. and between 5 p.m. and sunset as long as they are licensed through the Town ($50).”

Off-leash rules apply to dogs on leashes that extend more than 8 feet.

Town officials say they were responding to health and safety concerns ranging from dogs romping on the dunes or disturbing turtle nests, to aggressive dogs and irresponsible dog owners failing to clean up after their animals.

Mayor Bob Gibbons has become the lightning rod on this issue, taking much criticism from the pro-dog, anti-leash contingent led by Orchid resident Robert Breadner, who launched a letter-writing campaign that resulted in 65 of his neighbors requesting that the looser 2007 ordinance stay in place.

Breadner claimed in an email the new regulations, which took effect June 1, “are the most restrictive in all of Indian River County,” and were passed by the Town Council “despite overwhelming support to not change the existing ordinance.”

He asserted that “in a club of only 375 members, 83 residents wrote letters to the town [and] 65 said do not change.”

Vero Beach 32963 reviewed more than 200 emails and photos on the subject sent to Orchid town officials, mostly during 2021 and 2022, voicing strong opinions on both sides of the issue.

Gibbons said “more than 30 residents … indicated their support for either a complete prohibition against unleashed dogs or the compromise adopted by the Town Council to permit dog owners to have their dogs on the beach without leash before 9 and after 5. A significant number who wrote in opposition to the change, did not simply say no change; but, instead, suggested other forms of compromise.”

Action was postponed in 2020 during the pandemic, but town staff kept researching how other coastal communities had solved their own dogs-on-the-beach dilemmas.

After public input, the matter came up for discussion at the March 2 town meeting. Gibbons was disappointed that few residents showed up, so the public was given additional opportunities for input in March, April and May.

Orchid resident David Newman wrote to the council in February advocating the then-status quo.

“I believe the current rules for dogs on the beach are fine. I regularly take my dog to the beach and we carefully operate within the confines of the rules outlined. I see others operate with the same degree of care and caution, although dogs are rare in general to see on the beach,” Newman said.

Bryan Davidson wrote to the council twice – once in the spring of 2020 when he was closing on his Orchid home and moving in with his beach-loving yellow labrador, and again in February – restating his position for lenient dog regulations.

“I feel somewhat betrayed when your real estate web site and your brokerage office clearly state that dogs are welcome at Orchid and that you can let them play on the beach. Orchid Island Golf & Beach club is a lifestyle community and having my dog on the beach is clearly one of the lifestyle activities that influenced our purchase decision,” Davidson wrote.

“We previously lived at Palm Beach Polo Club. Ownership management there systematically closed amenities there which prompted us to move. I sincerely hope that Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club is not headed toward the same path.”

Breadner’s claim that Orchid’s new dog rules are the most restrictive in the county, however, is incorrect.

Orchid’s ordinance is much like the Town of Indian River Shores’ rules, which also allow off-leash dogs (and those on more than 6-foot leashes) on its beaches within the same sunrise-sunset hours – also with a license.

The City of Vero Beach does not allow any dogs on its beaches, with the exception of a very few small “pockets,” such as from the Costa d’Este hotel, which is private property, to Sexton Plaza, and those dogs must be leashed.

Indian River County does not allow any dogs in its beach parks at all, so Orchid’s new rules – though more restrictive than the town’s 2007 ordinance – are still among the least restrictive of those governing the county’s 22-plus miles of beach.