Cape May Rentals pet friendly

Cape May NJ Pet Friendly Rentals | Vacation Homes Cape May

Cape May is a genteel seaside town known for Victorian homes, horse-drawn carriages, and white-linen dining - not raucous fighting. But one thing puts people here more at odds than the town's annual croquet match: dogs.

The city — a National Historic Landmark considered the crown jewel of the Jersey shore — imposes more restrictions on pet owners than other shore towns. Some contend these rules are necessary for maintaining the island's carefully curated aesthetic. Others think they make for an inhospitable environment, and the very opposite of what a resort area should be striving for.

Those who support the status quo point to all the ways that dogs are already enfranchised on the island - a 1, 500-square-foot dog park on Lafayette Street, several dog-friendly hotels and bed and breakfasts, and nearly 20 restaurants and cafes that allow dogs in their outdoor seating areas. But for critics of the town's animal policies, these checks in the pro-dog column don't make up for the fact that dogs are canines non-grata in many public spaces.

On the Cool Cape May Facebook page, with more than 17, 000 fans, the topic comes up frequently. On November 22, 2016, the online discussion grew so contentious, page administrators deleted some comments perceived as nasty. Other times, the disagreement plays out face-to-face.

"I was walking my pug Mimi on the Washington Street Mall, and an old woman loudly said to her companion: 'I guess some people just can't read, '" said Krystina Kennedy, wedding and social sales manager for Cape May's Congress Hall hotel. "I made eye contact and she said to me: 'Dogs that bite don't belong in crowded places.' I replied that Mimi is 10 and not interested in biting anyone, and then she mumbled something about disrespect. I have been yelled at many times for walking my dogs on the mall and the boardwalk. But honestly, it doesn't change anything for me. I know my dogs are good, so I have no issues bringing them around."

So what's the verdict? Are Cape May's policies unfavorable to man's best friend, or are they the very thing keeping the town from, well, going to the dogs? NewsWorks investigated.

The controversy

Along Cape May's concrete promenade, which runs parallel to the beach for nearly two miles, dogs are only allowed November through March. And on the city's main beach, dogs are only allowed the 1.3 miles "from the intersection of the midpoint of Madison Avenue and the Beach to Third Avenue, " according to the city codebook, and only — again — from November through March. In each place, dogs must be leashed at all times. In Cape May Point, dogs are prohibited on the beach from March 15 through October 31.

While nearby Sunset Beach in Lower Township has become a popular spot for some due to it's lack of dog restrictions, legislators voted 3-2 in 2015 to ban dogs here from 11a.m. to 4 p.m. every day during summer months. The meeting drew 200 people on both sides of the debate, and was standing room only.

Likewise, nearby Higbee Beach in Lower Township is commonly known as a place where dogs can run free all year — and several tourism websites advertise it as such. But the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, which manages the area, says this isn't exactly true.

"Dogs can be free here between September 1 and April 30, and on leash between April 30 and September 1, " said Larry Hajna, spokesperson for the NJ Department of Environmental Protection. "Limitations have a lot to do with timing restrictions for endangered species, like the Red Knot shorebird, which migrates through the area. And if regulations are in place, people should be obeying them."

But the safety of endangered species doesn't explain why leashed dogs aren't allowed on the three-block pedestrian walk known as the Washington Street Mall, the wildly popular shopping district largely considered the heart of Cape May, and the crux of the doggy debate.

The mall dispute

For the past couple of years, the Washington Street Mall Management Company, aka the Business Improvement District (BID), has been petitioning city council to reconsider their anti-dog ordinance. Repeatedly, they were told the timing wasn't right, and the item was never put on the agenda for discussion.

"It's would be good for business, " said Dawn DeMayo, president of the BID and owner, along with her husband John, of two businesses on the mall, Gallery D'May Fine Art and D'May Home Gallery. Their cockapoo Skip is a common site in their stores. "Look at Carmel, Madison Avenue, the Ritz Carlton — these places all accommodate dogs. This happens everywhere, it seems, except the Washington Street Mall. Dogs are now considered a part of the family. They're well behaved, socialized and well groomed. Allowing them on the mall — the center of Cape May — would improve the experience for visitors and residents. Dogs just make life better."

Two years ago, a customer of DeMayo's bought a $1, 000 painting. After making the transaction, he decided to go for lunch at Tisha's restaurant on the mall in order to think over another purchase, and he brought his dog along with him. On his way back to the gallery, he was stopped by a police officer who told him he could not be on the mall with his pet. Instead, the man needed to return to his car and drive to the back entrance of the gallery to pick up his artwork. The customer was so angry, he never made the second purchase. And while DeMayo says this is a law that's mostly enforced in the summer months, when the police department has been staffed with extra officers, situations like this occur frequently enough to create an inhospitable atmosphere — something a tourist town can't afford.

"It's ridiculous, " she said. "We once saw a police officer kick an Ugly Mug patron off the mall while the customer was eating lunch on the restaurant's patio, because he had his dog with him."

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