Section 17.12.290 of the Los Angeles County Code of Ordinances states unequivocally, " a person shall not bring or maintain on any beach a dog or cat.”
I love dogs, having grown up with two gigantic German shepherds, but I agree that dogs do not belong on public beaches. Many dog owners clearly disagree.
My family and I have spent portions of the past three years in Venice Beach, so that our son, who has autism and cognitive disability, can receive a specialized therapy. Venice has the wonderful quirky combination of beach, city life, and walkable streets that seem made for him. But even more important for us is the dog ban on the beaches of L.A. and Santa Monica.
Many people with autism — including our son J — are terrified of dogs. But, despite the ban, they abound on L.A. beaches.
On our first day on Venice Beach this year, a heavily pregnant blond woman in expensive sunglasses was walking across the sand, her dog in tow. A woman walking the other way said to her, “Excuse me, but the rules are no dog on the beach.” To which the blond woman replied, “Hey, no bitches on the beach!” She then walked on as if she were somehow the aggrieved party.
We encountered dogs on the beach every day of our stay, on leash and off. This year, inspired by the civic action of the woman I saw confronting the dog owner, I started engaging with anyone I saw walking a dog, asking if they knew about the law, and if so, why they were breaking it.
Most of those I spoke to made clear they thought the law was dumb. As in, there’s a beach! My dog likes to swim! Instagram!
Lifeguards are usually the only visible authority on the beach. When I have spoken to them, they always confirm the ban, then shrug apologetically, sometimes even as unleashed dogs run by, and say they “can’t do” anything about it. “They’re supposed to be ticketed,” one told me. “But the police won’t get involved.”
At Dockweiler beach, we watched as a young woman walked past the “no dogs” sign and onto the beach for the express purpose of letting her dog relieve itself on the sand where so many people walk barefoot. In the evenings, a group of dog owners often turned a stretch of sand near the boardwalk into a de facto off-leash dog park — right under a sign noting the dog ban.
When I told lawbreaking dog owners about the ordinance, many insisted they hadn’t known — but then I’d see them again the next day, their dogs still in tow.
One woman who acknowledged she was knowingly breaking the law said: “Get the homeless people off my porch and then I’ll stop walking my dog on the beach.”
Another woman, who didn’t even bother to bring a leash, stood by as her dog chased J and then complained to me about his screaming, “I’m such a loving person,” she said. “And look how I’m trembling! This is so traumatic!”
When I explained about the ordinances, and she saw I’d inadvertently captured the whole thing on video, she instantly worried that the episode would soon be on YouTube. She aggressively demanded I erase it. Then she added, “You know, I work with kids with autism,” making her either the world’s worst liar or the worst aide for kids with autism.
We love L.A., and some of our nicest memories from this week are of people we met on its beaches: the older gent toting a surfboard who was kind to J, chatting with us about dolphins as we walked; the woman lawfully walking her golden retriever on the boardwalk, who, when I explained J’s fear of dogs, patiently waited so we could maintain the distance that made him comfortable, even from her friendly and calm dog.
But I also kept thinking about the pregnant lady from our first day. Disability is just one accident, one genetic alteration away. It’s not a club you can avoid if you have enough money. L.A.’s dog rule at the beaches helps make the wonder of the ocean available to more of the humans who live here and visit. Now, if it were only enforced.
Marie Myung-Ok Lee has taught writing at Yale, Brown and Columbia Universities. Her novel “The Evening Hero” will be published in 2020. @MarieMyungOkLee