“Catcher in the Sand”
It was an otherwise beautiful, sunny, Sunday morning on the beach in Atlantic Beach, Florida. It was Father’s Day. I had my boys with me. Dash & Tico. We were visiting my mother and the four of us were having a morning walk on the beach. Mom had Tico, my Long-Haired Dachshund, on a leash and I had Dash, my Golden Retriever, on a leash as well. We strolled south on the beach from 15th Street.
Dash loves the beach. He knows a walk on the beach means swimming after tennis balls that I shoot out past the shore break with a launcher. He gets to show off his skill as a remarkable athlete; I should teach him how to surf because he seems to know how to read the waves well. Tico is not as much a fan of the beach but he does enjoy cruising for chics…
Atlantic Beach, like most other municipalities, has a leash law that also applies to dogs on the beach. Neighboring Neptune Beach is a lot stricter and goes beyond the required leash law by totally banning dogs on the beach between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Under Atlantic Beach law, it is supposedly OK to let your dog swim off-leash as long as you are in the water with him. How far in the water you must be is not exactly clear for most of us dog owners, so most people will leash up their dogs regardless when the dog catcher’s truck is spotted.
But most owners of water-loving breeds such as Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers will agree that a dog retrieving a tennis ball while you are swimming is not exactly the ideal method for performing this activity with your pet. I will go out on a limb and say that most Atlantic Beach owners of these mentioned breeds are typically responsible, law-abiding citizens who close one eye to the law when it comes to exercising and playing with their dogs on the beach. They are usually in control of their dogs and have a leash in possession to use when their dogs are not in the water. The dog catcher normally drives on to the beach from an access at the end of Atlantic Boulevard (the southern city border with Neptune Beach) or from another access at the northern end of the beach, 20 blocks or so north. It is usually easy to spot the truck and although it is similar to the Life Guards’ trucks from a distance, one can usually determine the difference by the movements of the truck.
So, Dash & I were playing his favorite game of fetch the tennis ball. Dash watches overhead as the ball sails out beyond the waves; he takes off in full force and watching him crash through the waves is a real delight. If the surf is not so heavy, I send the ball out as far as possible which allows him a nice long swim back in. I keep an eye on the timing of his exit from the surf and often leash him up if another dog is approaching or small children are walking by. He is not a threat to anyone but I like to avoid these situations. He loves kids and other dogs but I am more worried about him running up to either too fast so, I keep him leashed. Tico always remains on a leash and loves to bark at Dash as he runs to retrieve the tennis balls. Dash will only leave the water’s edge when he needs to relieve himself – preferring the line of washed up seaweed or the edge of the sand dunes. Again, as a responsible dog owner, I am right behind him to clean up with one of the several plastic bags I normally carry.
Sure enough, Dash took a break from retrieving and ran up to the seaweed to unload. I was right behind him with the plastic bag. I bent over to clean up and as I stood up while tying a knot in the bag, there was the dogcatcher’s truck right in front of me – out of nowhere…
“Sir, is that your dog off leash?” a woman in the passenger seat asked me. A man was driving the truck.
“Yes, it is,” I responded.
“Do you know you are in violation of Atlantic Beach City ordinances?” she barked.
“Look,” I answered, “my dog was in the water – off-leash – retrieving a tennis ball and he needed to relieve himself so, he ran up here to do so; I followed him up to clean up after him; now put him back on the leash and we will go back down to the water but not before I go over to that garbage can to deposit this.”
I held the full plastic bag up in front of her face to prove my story.
“That doesn’t matter, sir, you’re still in violation and I am going to have to give you a citation.”
My disdain for dogcatchers and this type of people who only see in black & white made me determined to fight the system.
“Do you have identification on you?” she asked as she pulled out her book of citations.
“Are you kidding?” I asked; “Who carries an ID with them for a morning walk on the beach?”
“So what is your name?”
The Rolodex of Answers spun away in my head. I eliminated a host of names including a friend who lived three hours west of here. It seemed like an eternity passed before I came up with what I thought was a perfect name:
“George Killiam.” The answer shocked me though it was a perfect response as he is a long-deceased uncle (God bless your soul, Uncle George – thanks for the temporary use of your name!)
Mom stood within earshot and, with Tico, she began walking south (in the opposite direction) along the water when she heard my response. “I don’t know where you were going with that story,” she later told me, “and I didn’t want to have to come up with a corroboration.”
“And what is your address,” the woman asked.
I gave her my real address and figured I would return any related correspondence with “no such person at this address” written on the envelope.
“Just a minute while I call this in, sir.” She picked up a radio receiver and called in my name and address.
Oh shit! I thought. I had no idea they would go this far…
A garbled sentence from the other end came though on the radio several minutes later.
“Sir,” the woman turned to me with a very serious look on her face, “your name and address do not check out with the Georgia Drivers License Bureau; either you gave me an incorrect address or you gave me a wrong name.”
“OK, then,” I answered as I looked down, “why don’t you try ‘Robert Leedy’ ?” I spelled the last name out for her.
“And who is that?”
“Oh, that’s me.” I answered.
“Well, who is George Killiam?”
“That’s my uncle.”
She turned to her partner. “Get the police down here right away.”
Double ‘Oh shits’.
In the meantime, she called my real name and address in and there was a match.
An Atlantic Beach motorcycle cop appeared out of nowhere just as the dogcatcher had. He was sans motorcycle and carefully navigated his shiny black knee-high boots through the thick sand. He was a short, angry-looking fellow with a scraggily, unkempt goat-tee growing from his chin like a piece of dried up seaweed. With his helmet still on, he looked like a walking barnacle. Or maybe like a backup ukulele player for Z.Z. Top. Still, I couldn’t believe the Atlantic Beach Police had appearance / dress codes this guy could pass. I was still talking to the dogcatcher as he walked up to us. Dash, leashed at this point, was happy to see him and I pretended not to see as Dash rubbed up against the officer who was wearing a black, neatly pressed uniform. [For all of you non-Golden Retriever owners, black is the preferred color by Goldens when they greet guests…it shows off their hair best.]
The officer was obviously not a dog person and instead of pulling back on the leash, I passively said: “No Dash…don’t do that…”
“I understand you gave these officers of the Atlantic Beach Police a false name?” He said angrily.
I nodded to the affirmative. Since when are dogcatchers considered cops, I thought…
“Do you realize I can throw you in jail for resisting arrest?” His voice elevated.
Since when is lying illegal, I wanted to ask him. If lying were illegal, there would be no politicians left in Washington. I reasoned it was not the perfect response.
“Why did you give them a false name?” He continued…
Do we have to send you back to cop school? I mean, why does anyone give a false name?
“It wasn’t a false name,” I answered, “it’s my uncle’s name.”
He continued asking me the same question. Finally he asked:
“Why did you give them your uncle’s name?”
“Because it’s his dog.”
“So, where’s your uncle now?”
“He’s fishing off the coast of St. Augustine; I’m just taking care of his dog.”
“I still want to know why you gave your uncle’s name?”
“Because he is going to pay the ticket for his dog – not me.”
I was beginning to like the logic of my winging-it-answer.
“Where does your uncle live?”
“In Georgia as I do, however, I do not know his address, that’s why I listed mine.”
I prayed they weren’t going to run a check on my uncle.
“So, if I stop you for speeding, are you going to give me your uncle’s name?”
WHAT I WANTED TO ANSWER: “Yeah – if it’s his car I’m driving.”
WHAT I ACTUALLY ANSWERED: “Of course not.”
I’m not a tall guy and I was looking down on this guy as he proceeded to lecture me for the next 45 minutes. He was angry and probably would have liked a reason to pull out his gun and shoot both my dog and me. He was definitely struggling with a Napoleonic Syndrome and neither the power trip, the gun, the shiny black boots, the motorcycle, nor the scraggily facial hair seemed to help his self-image.
I remained quiet and let him give his speech.
In the end, he told me he was not going to take me in but he angrily stressed that he was going to run my name and address and if it did not match up, he was going to issue a warrant and come looking for me.
“These folks have already run my name and address and it all checked out,” I told him.
This seemed to piss him off. “Sir, I am conducting my own investigation here, OK?”
I quietly nodded.
“They are going to write you a citation. You are lucky you are not in jail.”
But I wanted a quick word in:
“Sir, I realize I officially broke the law. But I just want to let you know that when I am down here on the beach with [my uncle’s] dog, I always act responsibly. I take the leash off when my dog is in the water. I leash him when I see approaching leashed dogs or ones that may pose a potential threat. I leash him when I see small children or elderly people approaching – not that he is aggressive – but more in the idea that he may be too eager in his greetings or that he may decide to shake water off near them. I am in control of my dog at all times and I respect other people around me because I realize that not all people love dogs as I do. I pick up after my dog and properly dispose of his wastes as needed. I grew up here and over the years I have seen the laws go from rarely enforced to strictly enforced which is how it is now and is probably a result of all of the irresponsible dog owners who cannot control their dogs and do not have the decency to clean up after them. I think it’s a shame that those who have control of their dogs cannot allow their pets to frolic and play on the beach in a free manner. I don’t even think there is a leash-free stretch of beach on this entire Floridian coastline. It’s a real shame that responsible owners are more often the ones who get charged – not the real violators.”
My mini lecture went through dead ears.
“Sir, the law’s the law.” He turned to the dogcatchers and said as he walked away: “I just hope I’m not stuck in the sand.”
They wrote me a ticket. I signed it and turned to see where Mom & Tico were. They were coming back up the beach. I caught up with them.
“A lousy $30 ticket and I almost got thrown in jail. This really ruins my day.”
Mom laughed and told me how crazy I was to do such a thing. But she agreed that the dogcatchers were a little over zealous.
Just then we witnessed a City truck – a pickup used for collecting trash from the beach trash cans – come speeding by. They were not stopping to empty the cans. They slammed on brakes a few blocks down and two men jumped out and ran over the dunes out of sight.
“That’s weird,” I told my mother, “something weird is going on – I’m going to have a look.”
With that, I headed up towards the dunes and stopped when I saw what was going on:
The two city employees had scrambled over the dunes to help Officer Z.Z. Napoleon who had obviously radioed them to come help push his motorcycle out of the sand. The three struggled with the heavy bike. I wondered why the cop drove that far out into the sand to begin with.
I walked back to where my Mom was. Tico & Dash sat perfectly still and watched me return. I smiled at my mother while I pet my dogs.
“You know,” I told her, “this isn’t going to be such a bad day after all…”
[NOTE: Dog catchers or, Animal Control Officers, as they like to be called are a necessary part of modern, civil life. Although I do not feel they should be harassing responsible dog owners, it is very important to keep unleashed pets and strays out of the streets for the health and safety of not only citizens but of the animals themselves. It’s disappointing that public safety officers cannot make more judgment calls and not approach all laws on the book in a black & white manner. Dogcatchers should pursue more stray animals and police should pursue more hard criminals. Sadly, with these types of people in mind, it’s more often a case of the wrong person making the wrong career choices for all of the wrong reasons.]
“Dash Waits for a Launch”, photograph by Robert Leedy, 2007
Dash is no happier anywhere than on the beach playing fetch. Here he waits for me to launch a rubber ball (like the one around his neck) from a contraption called a Go-Frrr Ball. Glen & Barbara are very nice folks who sell these online. I think Dash & I are even on one of their brochures. Click on the link for more info or to purchase directly. I have a tennis ball launcher from another company which actually goes a little further but the Go-Frrr Ball is much more handy, portable and convenient – especially on the beach. WARNING: Read all instructions carefully and keep your dog on a leash at all times to avoid run-ins with the local dogcatcher and, possibly, the police!
Months later I was ticketed again. To read about my second offense, CLICK HERE.
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- July 8, 2007 / 12:46 pm