Too few beaches for too many dogs

Lack of space is one of the most common complaints among users. Each town council, with its own rules, regulates access

Bàrbara Julbe
5 min
Dogs playing on a Catalan beach

GIRONALima, a three year old cross between a warren hound and a pinscher, sits on the sand looking at the sea in Castelló d'Empúries. What must she think this brief moment when she stops playing and running? Her owner, Nicky, comes closer and caresses her. The two often come here because, living in Roses, it is close by. These 400 metres of Rubina are, in fact, one of the few places on the Catalan coast where dogs are allowed to swim. Moreover, they are allowed all year round and without restrictions, which does not happen in the rest of the beaches that accept dogs. Each one is governed by its own regulations according to municipal regulations.

"If Lima is hot and I haven't brought an umbrella, he goes under someone else's umbrella and nothing happens," says this young woman among other dogs and bathers. The beach is full. Coexistence, however, tends to be respectful and dog-owners keep spaces clean. "People pick up the droppings right away. Also, keep in mind that dogs will not poop or pee in the water. They're not like us...", says Àngela Coll, spokeswoman for citizen platform Espai Gos de Barcelona. Most users would like to have bigger beaches. "In Barcelona, 25% of the population lives with a dog and dogs are only allowed on 1,200 metres of beach. That is, 0.06 of the Barcelona coastline for 25% of the population: the imbalance is brutal and capacity is just enough", laments Coll, who adds that "it looks like a closed recreation area with water and sand".

Dogs on the beach of l'Escala.

High fines

All along the Barcelona province coastline, there are a dozen beaches with open access for dogs. In addition to Llevant (in Barcelona), animals can go, for example, to Ponent (located in Mataró and one of the last to accept dogs) or Cala Vallcarca (Sitges). On the Costa Brava, apart from Rubina - which was one of the first on the Spanish coast to accept dogs - there is also Sant Jordi (Llançà) or Les Barques (Colera). In the province of Tarragona, Bassa de l'Arena (Deltebre), Platjola (Alcanar) and Punta del Riu (Mont-roig del Camp) also allow dogs. In total, from Cap de Creus to the Ebro delta there are currently about twenty.

As a general rule, dogs are prohibited from accessing beaches, except for guide dogs, rescue or assistance dogs, as well as others authorised to detect various substances, which can access them regardless of local regulations. The Coastal Law, which regulates protection, conservation and use of the coastline, does not ban dogs from accessing beaches, but neither does it expressly authorise it. Thus, each municipality can stipulate, on the basis of its by-laws, whether it authorises dogs to bathe and at what times. Some municipal regulations are tolerant, others allow access with some restrictions, especially in the summer months and, finally, there are those that do not allow dogs at all. If users do not apply the rules, based on maintaining the conditions of cleanliness and health of the bathing areas and coexistence, they can end up with a fine. Going to a beach that does not allow dogs can lead to penalties ranging from €80 to €1,500, in cases of recidivism in some municipalities, always depending on each municipality's regulations. In most of them, in addition, animals must be kept on a leash. Restrictions usually start applying in early June, coinciding with the start of the bathing season - although some start earlier in May or even April - and ends between September and October. In Viladecans a total of 25 sanctions were imposed last year, some of them for accessing beaches of Cal Francès or Remolar with gods during the period in which they are temporarily closed for the Kentish plover's nesting process. In Rubina, as it is located within the Natural Park of the Wetlands of l'Empordà, in addition to the regulation, they try to explain the issues. "There may be some that escape into the dunes, but regulations are usually complied with," says Esther Bussó, the council's technical assistant for environment.

The whole family

To inform about uses, the signposting is key. On the beach of Riumar, in the Ebro delta, in an extension of about 490 meters, the City Council has delimited the space for dogs with buoys in the sea and signposts in the sand and at the accesses. In the case of the Rec del Molí, in l'Escala, a wooden fence separates the beach where bathers with dogs go from those without: "We made this section available because of the great demand there was. We wanted to give an alternative to those who walked the dog on our beaches and who the police had to warn they could not do so," says Robert Figueras, a local councillor. Other municipalities such as Platja d'Aro, despite having requests in this regard, have preferred to dismiss them. This is because they hope to keep the beach and the sea in good condition. "Our tourist model is based on quality and standards, both in terms of health and hygiene. The seal of quality of the blue flag, which we have been awarded, does not allow dogs in these spaces. If not, the guarantors of this accreditation would strip it away and we would lose this distinctive that has a value for our markets. Instead, we offer dog socialisation spaces in Castell d'Aro and Platja d'Aro, and we will build a new one in S'Agaró this winter", emphasises the mayor, Maurici Jiménez.

Families with children, a dog and other people on the beach in Barceloneta.

The doctor in anthrozoology Paula Calvo argues instead that "the dog is a member of the family and taking it to the beach is a way of enjoying having a multi-species family. However, taking into account the number of animals, the space they currently are allowed on the beaches is ridiculous". "Animals are also clean and well cared for. There are people with worse hygiene than dogs and beaches with dirt that does not come precisely from the canines, such as straws, cans or plastics. Not accepting dogs because of the quality of the water is an excuse to justify not wanting dogs. Several studies show that the presence of dogs in the environment makes people more civic and prosocial", warns this ethologist. On Llevant beach in Barcelona, to avoid anti-social behaviour, there are some environmental informers. "They inform and check animals' chip as a requirement for access," explains Anna Ortonoves, head of City Council's department of animal protection. The maximum capacity on this beach, open for these uses since 2016, is 141 people or 60 dogs in compliance with current health measures, a capacity that has been reduced due to the pandemic. In 2020, 11,644 dogs enjoyed this space, 76% coming from the city of Barcelona. "People who feel like enjoying a summer swim with their dog in Barcelona make a very responsible use of the space," says Ortonoves.

But who really enjoys this activity? "If we think that animals will enjoy it as we do, it's a mistake. The massive human presence makes it difficult for the dog to be calm. The beach takes on a profile similar to that of a small dog parks with the risks that this implies, such as overproduction of stimuli, poor communication and reactive behaviours," warns dog trainer Jordi Herrera, of Tartaruga Educació Canina. "Another thing is to take it to the beach when it's not hot and it can interact with the space, inspecting it according to its abilities and needs. This way it will be a really profitable experience and it will be able to enjoy it fully", he stresses.

The dangers: baits, straws, sand and heat

Going to the beach with your dog may not be as healthy as it sounds. The space is exposed to a few dangers. According to veterinarians, baits with hooks left in the sand are a problem. So is swallowing sand or salt water. In addition, they can get burnt by cigarette butts that have not been properly put out, cut with pieces of glass or leftover cans and suffer heat stroke. "It is essential to carry a parasol, fresh, clean water in a bowl so they can drink and put sunscreen on the tips of the ears, muzzle or areas with little hair. And refrain from going in the hottest hours of the day, of course," says veterinarian Sònia Fernández.