Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Life's a beach?

Not necessarily for your dog; rules, regulations vary, and they're not easy to find

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When it comes to public beaches, it may not be a dog's life in your area. Rules for dogs on public beaches vary -- on some, canines are permissible if they're on a leash; other beaches ban dogs outright. It's up to owners to research the rules, but this task may not be as easy as you might think.

Beach rules are something I discovered a few years ago when my family went to Gimli with a friend and his wife. They took their terrier, assuming little dogs would be allowed onto the beach. However, signs posted were clear: no dogs allowed. It posed a problem: we had to move from our sandy spot and find a new location in a nearby grassy area. Because my kids were still young, either my husband or I had to leave the group to monitor them as they built sandcastles or went into the water.

It was a valuable lesson. You may see your pet as your furry baby or family member, but others might not. Owners need to check pet guidelines before they take their dogs anywhere. Had my friend known ahead of time, she would have left her dog with her mother in-law (who, by the way, makes the best pickerel cheeks in Manitoba; given the choice, I would have stayed with her, too).

Most dog owners are accustomed to making accommodations when they travel or enjoy local amenities; they just want to know the rules. To see how accessible Internet information on pet guidelines for beach access is, I perused a variety of websites, from provincial parks to water-conservation guidelines. It should have been a quick task, but it took me hours.

Rules vary with provincial beaches. The Manitoba Parkland Tourism website lists a few of their beaches that do allow dogs, as long as they are leashed. Some others bar them from beach areas altogether.

My Grand Beach search was interesting: one of the websites doesn't mention pets at all, but another provincial website does explain the rules -- at the end of a long list of regulations. Formatted like a brochure, the page has icons that show the location of everything from parks to firewood. For simplicity's sake, it would have been nice if it used the same format for pets, too. It doesn't. Instead, there is a note on the second page that says pets aren't allowed on the beach (or anywhere fun). They have to be on a leash in public areas at all times.

The website information offered by Riding Mountain National Park is vague. All I could find was the rule for accessing a trail. It said, "If you must bring a dog..." In other words, dogs are permissible, but not encouraged. Nothing addresses beach rules.

After chatting with an unofficial representative over the phone, I discovered that I'd touched on an ongoing issue. Officials there have been looking to address their dog policies; once they've resolved everything, they'll include these policies on their website.

For now, however, dogs are not allowed on designated swimming beaches (service dogs are, naturally, excluded from this policy). The national park discourages dogs from going on the grass area around the beach, too. As for the remainder of the park, dogs should be leashed.

Trying to find a solution, the friendly customer-service representative advised me that those wishing to throw a stick in the water for their pup might go just outside the park. But this creates another issue -- because wildlife can be present, owners and dogs should swim at their own risk.

Manitoba's pet-related beach policies are a far cry from the beach trends in other parts of North America. Information on websites in other jurisdictions is easily accessible, and options seem to be available everywhere from California to Ontario.

Swimming is a great form of exercise. It's one that veterinarians recommend, especially for dogs with arthritis. Few of us can afford swimming pools just for our pups, and cottages are also beyond the financial reach of many Manitobans. We have little choice but to look for local gems, let pups swim along river banks or find dog parks with access to water.

I understand both sides of this issue. Some people don't want dogs on the beach, as they're allergic to or afraid of dogs. Others worry dogs will urinate, defecate, bite, misbehave or make too much noise. This is why I like the idea of a special section of beaches for dogs and their owners. Only those who like dogs would frequent these areas, and the majority of owners are good when it comes to picking up their dogs' feces.

Swimming is a simple joy for both owners and pets. But for now, when it comes to finding Manitoba's pet-friendly options, it's up to the owners to do the research before they head out to frolic.

Care, consideration

Watch out for blue-green algae on any body of water. Dogs ingest water that humans wouldn't, and the algae can pose health problems.

When you access dog-friendly websites, use them as a guide. Make sure that you contact the beach or park directly, as regulations can change or parks might have hourly or even seasonal rules.

Always bring dog waste bags for feces disposal.

If it's too hot for you, it's too hot for your dog. Swim early in the morning or in the evening. If you want to cool the dog off, make it a dip-and-dash type of swim, then head for the shade.

If your dog isn't friendly, don't take it to a populated area.

After you research the rules, respect them. We don't want to ruin it for other owners.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 26, 2012 C5

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