In Closed Session

Long Beach lays claim to a rarity along the California coast — a dog beach.

At most beaches, including the rest of Long Beach, it's illegal to have a dog even if it's on a leash, much less running free. But, thanks in large part to uber community activist Justin Rudd, a patch of sand and waterfront near Granada Launch Ramp has been designated a dog play zone for nearly 14 years.

And every year, there is a problem or two.

This year, summer started with a harrowing tale from Dick Freeman. The senior (he admits to 76) wrote that he took his 15-pound Schnauzer Stella to Rosie's Dog Beach a week or two ago, and she was immediately attacked by a pack of five dogs, led by a big pit bull. Freeman recounts how he kicked the dogs, saving Stella, but putting himself in danger.

Dog and master left, apparently uninjured, but Freeman is on the warpath. He wants to know who's enforcing the rules at the dog beach and why the one man apparently in charge of the dog pack could walk away without fear of punishment.

He wrote to Justin, but despite the fact that the beach is named after his beloved, departed bulldog, Justin has no control over what goes on at the beach. Then Freeman wrote to me (and pretty much every city official he could think of) pleading that rules be enforced or that the beach be shut down.

So who's in charge of the dog beach, anyway?

Lots of people, according to Marie Knight, director of the Parks, Recreation and Marine Department. Her department is in charge of beach maintenance and concessions (Alfredo's Beach Shack is within shouting distance of the dog beach). They do some rule enforcement, too, and her department includes Animal Care Services, whose officers can write citations and the like.

Then there's the Marine Patrol, an arm of the Long Beach Police Department that patrols the marinas, coastal waterways and, occasionally, the beaches. Serious incidents bring them running. And if it's really serious, the LBPD sends in street patrol officers and more.

Still, most of the beach law enforcement falls to the lifeguards, especially in the summer. They are, after all, the ones who are out there.

"It's kind of a collective effort between us, the police department and animal services," Gonzalo Medina, Marine Safety chief, said. "There's no dedicated entity to enforce rules at the dog beach. But lifeguards can and do cite people for letting there dogs run out of bounds, having more than one dog and the like."

There's someone in the nearby lifeguard stand during daylight hours every day now, and through the summer. That's not the case for much of the year, though. And the lifeguards' primary responsibility is the safety of people in the water. Usually, if they see something amiss at the dog beach, they'll call for one of the roving patrols to come and help, Medina said.

One issue at the dog beach is the lack of containment. Boundaries are marked by whimsical dog sculptures — most people don't recognize them as boundary markers. A fenced area would never pass muster at the state Coastal Commission, and would be virtually impossible to maintain, anyway.

Are there dog fights and more problems every day at the dog beach, as Mr. Freeman suggests? Not according to Knight, who said the complaints about the dog beach are rare, while the compliments are many.

Still, she urged people to report problems — while understanding that an immediate response to a situation is pretty much impossible.

"We look for owners to be accountable, and they're not always accountable," she said. "You have to be there to enforce the rules, and we're not always there. If there's a dangerous situation, they can call, but nine times out of 10, they'll (the rule breaker) be gone when we get there."

The presence of a lifeguard in the summer will cause people to follow rules simply by their presence. But for year-round adherence, Knight suggested a volunteer group "adopt" the dog beach much like other groups have adopted dog parks around the city. That sense of ownership helps both maintenance and acceptance of rules, she said.

So who ya gonna call? How about calling yourself?

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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