The Cape Charles Planning Commission met to discuss the possibility of creating a fenced in dog park, at least on a temporary basis, somewhere at the north end of the beach. With dredging soon to begin, over 100,000 cubic yards of sand will significantly expand the northern beach; until that landscape is defined, determining the location will be problematic. Despite this current effort, there has been little or no outcry from the general public bemoaning the lack of a dog park at the beach; there has been, however concerns regarding the general approach by the town to dogs on the beach during the summer season. Last year, the town did create a ‘dog beach’ committee to review current rules and regulations, but that has yielded minimal results.
During the discussion, Councilwoman Natali voiced concerns about possible fecal and coliform contamination, and how it might impact the beach in general. “The Cape Charles Beach has never been, at least as far as I can remember, been closed from contamination,” Natali said. Natali’s concerns are real, and have recently been called the “Fido hypothesis.” Dogs do generate disease-causing bacteria, and recent studies list dogs third or fourth on the list of contributors to bacteria in contaminated waters.
As much as we love our canine friends, they do harbor coliform bacteria in their guts (E. coli, a bacterium, salmonella and giardia). Measurements of these bacteria are used as barometers of how much fecal matter has contaminated a body of water. Newer lab techniques can now pinpoint the origin of fecal bacteria contaminating water. One such technique is DNA fingerprinting. Another method looks at the antibiotic resistance of microbes from different species. Although the tests can point out major sources of pollution, they still cannot derive accurate percentages (to say whether dogs contribute 20 or 60%).
Keeping it in perspective, the Fido Effect is usually less a problem than humans and wild birds when it comes to contaminating water. But, the reality is, dogs at the beach do make significant deposits, and can account for over %10 of the contamination, which can be the difference between a beach closing or not.
The issue of policing the site was also discussed whether it was cleaning up after dogs, or managing overall behavior. That is, keeping control of aggressive dogs. While it is logical to assume that the ‘Dog Beach’ is not a place to socialize, train or practice with dogs that are dog-aggressive, how to enforce that is another matter. For it to work, the dog beach will be only suitable for dogs that are already socialized and are under complete control at all times.
While there may be little call for the dog park among full-time residents, the Planning Commission may have legitimate reasons to broach the subject, given the current trends and priorities being set by the town. Commissioner Straub,“Why are we doing this? Unless we can find that it is a legitimate way to increase tourism, or provide that service to tourists, I don’t see it.”