In The Pipeline: A dogged beach champion

After hearing about the loss of my friend Martin Senat — one of the founders of the Preservation Society of Huntington Dog Beach — last week, I found this piece I'd written for a local blog years ago:

"I used to roll my eyes a bit when we'd drive past Dog Beach. 'Do dogs need that much beach?' 'Isn't it a bit excessive?' 'Is it clean?'

Then we adopted a dog. One visit, and I was hooked.

Sure, it's good for the dogs, who get a blissful sensory overload of sand, salty water and other dogs. But I think Dog Beach might be even better for the people who bring the dogs. This tucked-away stretch of sand seems to function as its own little utopia. People seem relaxed, civil and even thoughtful as they watch their hounds bound in the surf."

Soon after, here in this column, I wrote a piece that documented a trip I'd made to Jamestown, N.D. While there, I'd met someone who'd just returned from Southern California. What did they rave about most from their visit? Dog Beach.

Then I learned that the future of Dog Beach as we knew it was in jeopardy.

That's how I got to know Martin. He'd called me one day, gravely concerned that the city was trying to put Dog Beach out of business. While his concerns may have been overstated, clearly the city had started making a few demands of Martin that would have seriously impede his ability to run things the way he was used to. After the column ran, based in even a remote possibility of Dog Beach being harmed, it helped ignite a debate between Martin and the city that he eventually seemed to win. He pled his case eloquently and humanely throughout the process. His compassionate tenacity, fueled by his love of animals, was a stunning thing to behold.

Martin was also aware that not everyone was behind the concept of a dog beach. More than once, I'd received a call or e-mail from him alerting me to the fact that someone was complaining — perhaps a City Council member, or a disgruntled local who simply did not understand the charms of a beach for dogs.

Whatever it was, whenever he felt that his haven might be under attack, he'd reach out — first to catch up on life, and then to try and enlist some help in defense of his organization.

Martin was easy to go to bat for — a good man whose heart was in the right place. If you ever saw him at Dog Beach, you'd know what I mean.

To watch Martin walk Dog Beach was to watch a great conductor direct his favorite orchestra. He engaged nearly everyone who walked by, checked the bag dispensers, then dispensed with treats for passing pups, gave away T-shirts, offered quips, bits of gossip, wry observations — he was as at home at Dog Beach as the dogs themselves.

And the place will just never be the same without my charming, erudite British friend.

His daughter Simone left this message on her dad's Facebook page: "So blessed to have walked this journey with you. Your love will forever be in my heart. Thank you for your wisdom and guidance. I love you, pops."

The next time you take your dog to the beach, perhaps pause for a moment to remember the man whose effusive spirit and love of animals helped make it possible in the first place. I know I'll always picture him there on the bluff, fussing over his dream, protecting the salty sanctuary he helped organize and tending to his four-legged flock.

We, and the dogs, have lost a lovely man.

A memorial service will be at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Tower 26 at the Seapoint end of Dog Beach.

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 18 books, including the new "Hello, It's Me: Dispatches from a Pop Culture Junkie." You can write him at chris@chrisepting.com.

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