Some city leaders would welcome a dog-friendly beach

Matt Algarin
A couple walks a dog on Crystal Beach. While it’s against Okaloosa County rules, it’s not uncommon to see dogs roaming the beach with their owners.

Unlike our neighbors to the east, you won't find Fido strolling the sugar white beaches in Destin or Okaloosa County — unless they are breaking the rules.

"I've tried to sponsor that in the past, but it got shot down," City Councilman Jim Bagby told The Log.

Currently, the city of Destin's codes mirror those in Okaloosa County, which prohibits animals on the beach.

With a dog park that's seen no shortage of visitors, both four-legged and human, and a pet-friendly dining ordinance in place, Bagby says it almost seems natural that dogs should be allowed on the beach.

"I think it would help," he said.

In Walton County, where Bagby serves as the head of the Tourist Development Council, dogs have been allowed on beaches for more than a decade.

Permanent residents and property owners must apply for permits and pay fees which allow them to take their dogs on the beach. Owners are restricted in the times they are allowed to be on the beach, which is mostly done to avoid the busy times of the day.

"I see them early in the mornings and late in the evenings," Bagby said of his dog sightings in Walton County.

As a dog fan himself, Councilman Jim Wood told The Log he could see Destin adopting some type of ordinance to allow dogs on city beaches.

"It's a conversation that we are going to have to have at some point in time," he said. "I understand both sides of it, and it would be interesting to see where it goes and who shows up."

While city leaders could vote to change its ordinances, the problem is a little more complex than a quick rule change.

Public Information Manager Doug Rainer told The Log there are multiple factors that come into play, as the city has very little beach of its own. A majority of the beaches in Destin are a mix of private, state, county or federal government property.

"It's very narrow patches," he said.

Recently, The Log’s Pooch Scoop columnist suggested expand the city its successful dog park concept, and create a dog beach area.

In order for the city to create a dog friendly beach, it would first have to amend its land development code, then stake out an area that could be used for a proposed park and secure appropriate funding to construct a park.

"There would be a lot of logistics that would go into that," Rainer said.

But if the city's leaders do decide to make a change, they have an example to the east they can easily follow.

"I don't think it needs to be restricted to residents (like Walton County), but I understand why they do it," Bagby said. "We could even use a tag system where people would have to pay, and they can also learn the rules at the same time."