WILDWOOD Competing for tourist dollars is rough. So this summer, Wildwood is going to give dogs their day – at the beach – with the first official oceanfront area along the southern coast of the Jersey Shore designated for canines and their owners.
In the off-season, from the beginning of October until the middle of May, dogs usually have free reign on many New Jersey beaches. But come peak summer season, Fido isn't usually welcome on the strands.
There are only a few offshore dog parks in Atlantic and Cape May Counties and a small undesignated "dog beach" in a no-man's-land area of bayfront in Egg Harbor Township between Ocean City and Longport. Asbury Park, in Monmouth County, has long allowed four-legged creatures to frolic on its Eighth Avenue beach in the summer.
So members of the Wildwood City Commission two weeks ago voted unanimously to amend an ordinance restricting summertime canine access to the beaches and crossover pathways on the boardwalk.
The amendment, which will go to a final vote Wednesday, would allow dogs and their owners to play in the sand or take a dip in the water year-round in a designated block-and-half-long, 190-yard-wide area in the city's north-end, probably around Poplar Avenue, Commissioner Peter Byron said.
"Wildwood is not a fly-to, it's a drive-to place. And people really want to be able to travel with the pets these days," Byron said. "We think this will be a huge boost for tourism because visitors will have the chance to do that if they come to Wildwood."
The designated dog beach in Wildwood would have water stations, plastic bags for scooped poop, and extensive signage reminding dog owners to be on their best behavior when it comes to cleaning up after their pets. If approved, the dog beach would be open by Memorial Day weekend.
"I'm going to bet that at the end of the summer, the public works crews will report that they had far less issues with doggie messes than they had with finding dirty disposable diapers left all over the beach," said Byron, father of seven children and owner of one canine.
Wildwood officials have been working for the last several years to boost local revenue, suggesting the beach be opened up for everything from camping to horseback rides.
The increasingly high cost of maintaining the Cape May County town's uniquely wide beaches has also plagued officials.
But now that a block and a half of beach might officially be going to the dogs, the town has a chance to turn some day-trippers into overnight guests, said motel owner Bob Ferguson, who operates the Rus Mar Motel on Ocean Avenue.
Several local motels, including Ferguson's, have already begun to allow customers to lie down with their dogs - sans fleas, of course.
"I think it's going to be a good thing that the city is opening a dog beach," Ferguson said, noting that as many as 70 percent of his guests show up with dogs. "It just says Wildwood is dog-friendly, which is a good thing for business."
In the world of tourism, the pet travel trend has spurred competition.
Two Atlantic City casinos - Showboat and Revel - recently began allowing pets on their properties.
Hotels across the United States, especially upscale chains like Westin and Ritz Carlton, have also jumped aboard the $55 billion-a-year pet industry gravy train. Man's best friend is being treated to everything from in-room pooch minibars to gluten-free organic doggie meals.
As many as 20,000 hotels and motels are listed as pet friendly on sites like Travelocity and TripAdvisor. And a higher percentage than ever of hotels and motels allow pets - 61 percent - up nearly 10 percent in the last four years, according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association.