By Caroline Giddis
The people of South Walton share many passions. The vibrancy of each neighborhood is characterized by a love of culture and art, and of course it’s hard to live down here if you’re not a beach fanatic. There’s one other thing that many people here can’t live without — their dogs.
Grayton Beach’s unofficial motto is “nice dogs, strange people” and the artsy Shops of Grayton even features a long mural with illustrations of many of the dogs who have lived in the area. Other neighborhoods like WaterSound have included dog parks in their developments.
While there are plenty of dog-friendly places in South Walton, the county does not allow all dogs on the beach. This confuses many people who live or visit here (we weren’t even sure how to answer all the questions) so we decided it was time to clear things up.
In 1987, Walton County passed its first animal control ordinance, citing the need to protect citizens from uncontrolled animals as certain areas became more urbanized. The ordinance included a section requiring residents and property owners to obtain a permit in order to have their dogs on the beach.
In 2015, almost 30 years later, over 2,000 residents and property owners bought permits for their furry companions.
“We are proud to be a county that considers ourselves dog friendly,” said Louis Svehla, spokesman for the Walton County Commissioners.
“This ordinance really strikes a balance between safety and allowing our residents the opportunity to enjoy our beaches with their pets.”
To get a permit, you’ll need to prove that you’re a resident or property owner in Walton County. You can show that by bringing a copy of a utility bill, your driver’s license or a tax receipt to the Walton County Clerk’s office.
Dog owners also must provide a certificate issued by a licensed veterinarian showing their pet has been vaccinated for rabies.
It’s important to note all names on the documents need to match. That means the name your veterinarian prints on your pup’s rabies vaccination sheet needs to match the name on your application and the name on the proof of ownership or residency.
The permit costs $40 and a it’s a $10 fee to replace your tag if it gets lost. Permits expire on August 1 each year but there is a grace period to renew until August 15.
Make sure that your dog stays on a leash while walking on the beach and bring bags to pick up any waste they may leave behind.
If you don’t like carrying around annoying plastic bags every time you walk your pup, local pet stores like Furry Fanatics and Bow Wow Meow sell handy waste bag holders that you can attach to a leash.
Dogs are allowed on the beach only during certain times of day. In the spring and summer, it’s from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. and in fall and winter, it’s from 3 p.m. to 9 a.m.
Svehla said the times are in line with when most people want to take their dogs to the beach, but that they are also set up for safety.
“Many people love to get their exercise by walking and quite often this occurs earlier in the morning or later in the day,” he said. “From a safety standpoint, the time frames also limit the potential exposure of dogs on the beach during peak visiting times. This helps to limit any potential negative interactions that may occur when mixing dogs with large crowds.”
Visitors may think the ordinance is a mild inconvenience, but Svehla said it actually works to support both residents and visitors, along with their furry friends.
“We are different than our surrounding counties in that we want our residents to experience our county as a family and enjoy a high quality of life, and more often than not, people see their pets as member of their family,” Svehla said. “This ordinance allow our residents to ‘do life’ with all of their family.”
You can skip the beach altogether and enjoy a number of activities with your pup by your side.
Check out the complete list of dog-friendly restaurants on 30A here.
If your dog loves to sprint from one side of the yard to the other, they’ll love Alaqua Unleashed, Walton County’s secured, off-leash dog park located on J D Miller road. Bring a ball or a frisbee – there’s plenty of room to run around!
Several outdoor venues such as Baytowne Wharf allow you to walk around with your dog on a leash and enjoy the events together. Point Washington State Forest and Topsail Hill Preserve State Park are great places to go hiking or biking with your dog.They’ll love the fresh air and explorable trails! (Note: dogs are not allowed on the state park beaches, though).
If your dog is a water-lover, take them to one of the coastal dune lakes and do some stand-up paddleboarding.