Wildwood's beach is where the dogs are

The dog park on the beach in Wildwood is moving to new digs

Thousands headed to the Jersey Shore for the Memorial Day weekend to recover from a long, somewhat weird winter, one of the 10 warmest winters on record for many spots east of the Great Plains.

Many vacationers have brought their dogs “down the shore” with them to provide an additional distraction from the news out of Washington these days. But dogs aren’t welcome during regular hours at most beaches, which usually leaves their owners with few good options for their pets.

But that’s not the case at Wildwood, which sometime in June will open an expanded area of the beach where dogs and their owners can flop on the sand, blow off stress with a good game of fetch, or jump in the ocean.

The town’s first dog beach became so popular in its first three years that Wildwood is moving it to a larger swath of sand. It won’t be hard to find. Just look for the giant red fire hydrant. Or open your car window. Your pet will likely sniff out where the dogs are hanging out.

Dog beaches have been catching on in other locations, but with some difficult adjustments, even in Wildwood. Boardwalk shopkeepers initially resisted the idea, saying it would discourage bipedal traffic and hurt sales of bawdy t-shirts, fried candy bars, and overpriced action figures. But it hasn’t.

Instead, beach merchants are cashing in on one of the fastest growing retail sectors in the economy by selling novelty items such as dog shot glasses. There’s even a dog-friendly outdoor café. Dog lovers have pounced on travel sites to find pet-friendly hotels, restaurants, and resorts. A few list Wildwood’s dog beach as one of the best.

Some may argue a dog beach goes too far. After all, dogs are messy and never clean up after themselves. They’re noisy and a very small minority can be as ornery as Cujo, the killer canine of B-movie fame. There’s also the at-times unnerving spectacle of humans pushing pets in doggie carriages, feeding them expensive cuts of beef, and dressing them up like children.

Dog lovers argue quite correctly, though, that a dog can exhibit some of the finest human qualities. They are friendly, loyal, protective, almost always ready to play catch, mostly happy to see people, hardly ever talk back, and are experts at chasing sea gulls away.

Both sides generally agree it is the owner’s responsibility to clean up after his pet.

As for those who just want to find peace in the Zen of the waves, undisturbed by dogs romping in the surf as their humans laugh and throw tennis balls to them, consider the dog beach a holding pen that easily can be avoided. But don’t forget, if you’re at the Shore the main attraction is people’s willingness to embrace fun.