Running Free

Demand grows for off-leash beaches as pet owners realize the pleasures of giving their dogs the freedom to frolic. Photography by Jennifer Waters
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Dog running down beachIF DOGS COULD TELL their owners the beaches they prefer, chances are they would pick those where leashes aren’t required. Dog owners who know of them and the joys of running free often are equally excited to hop in the car and go.

“The (leashless) beach has so many benefits that I don’t know who likes it more,” said Megan Stubbs, of Grand Rapids, who takes Kronos, her American Staffordshire terrier, to Kruse Park in Muskegon. “I love the water, and nothing beats Lake Michigan during the summer, but truly, it is seeing the joy that bursts from my little guy.”

Beach dog, dog run sign

It’s the same for Cindy Vannoy and Luna, her American Staffordshire terrier, and Chopper, an American Pitbull mix. “Chopper loves swimming out to retrieve a Frisbee, and Luna loves running around with the other dogs and playing in the water,” Vannoy said.

“She immediately began pouncing on waves and chasing them up and down the beach. It was one of the best moments I’ve had as a dog parent.”
— Melinda Hunsinger

DogThe fresh air, sun, waves and sand always makes for a great day out with dogs; Michigan has a few unleashed dog beaches. Most are on the west side of the state and rules differ; some state owners can have a dog off-leash but must be in control of it. So, check the rules before undoing a collar. Leashless beach parks include Kruse Park, Kirk Park near Grand Haven, Tannery Park in Boyne City, Tawas State Park and Zoll Street Park in Harbor Springs.

Jessica VanGinhoven, Ottawa County’s Parks and Recreation communications specialist, said Kirk Park’s dog beach was instantly popular when it opened. “This is West Michigan, and we love to be outside with our dogs. The demand for this type of park is growing.”

A dog might not be thrilled on its first trip to the beach, so be ready to get in the water. It gives them confidence. Other advice: Bring a toy and spend time playing in shallow water.

Playing with dog

Melinda Hunsinger, who takes Perrin, her 35-pound lab mix, to Kirk Park, remembers the first visit with her pup. “When she first put her paw into the water, she immediately pulled it back and looked up at me, but she watched me step in up to my ankles and followed right behind me,” Hunsinger said. “She immediately began pouncing on waves and chasing them up and down the beach. It was one of the best moments I’ve had as a dog parent.”

Given that dog owners are often laid-back and friendly, everyone is bound to make new friends. Hunsinger said if any dog wants a belly rub, she’s ready and willing. “The dog beach comes with a sense of community and an unspoken rule that everyone helps out everyone,” Hunsinger said.

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