Take your dog for a refreshing dip

Hot dogs! Hot dogs!

No, you're not at the ball park. It's the dog days of summer and your furry friend is hot. Here are a few South Pinellas locations where it's okay to take your dog for a swim.

Go, dog, go!

Fort DeSoto Paw Playground and Beach

3500 Pinellas Bayway S, Tierra Verde, at the far end of the pier's parking lot.

Two words: doggie paradise!

It's unbelievable: a fenced dog park that opens onto a public beach.

And with several fire hydrants planted in the middle of the play area, dogs are in heaven. It gets better. Out of the gated area, dogs are allowed to run free as long as they respond to voice commands. Owners throw balls and Frisbees into the water to play fetch. The area was very clean. Owners either pick up after their dogs or bury the droppings.

Done playing in the water? Back into the fenced area for a shower and a drink from the dog-height water fountain.

We only found one problem. The play area is fenced off into two sections, one side for small dogs and one for large. We have one of each. They may still be scarred from separation anxiety. Even so, they must have had a good time. They're still sleeping.

Gandy Beach

1.5-mile area on the St. Petersburg side of the Gandy Bridge.

This mixture of beach and mangroves is a non-stop party for families and their furry friends. Feel free to bring grills, campers, tents, kayaks and boats.

Dogs love it here. The water seems clean, though there is a thin seaweed line on the sand. The wading area extends 20 feet or more before getting deep, so big dogs and little dogs can have fun in a large area. It's best to keep most dogs on a leash because of heavy traffic on Gandy Boulevard.

A big negative is the trash. Tons of trash cans, but they're all overflowing with garbage piled around them. Garbage washed into the mangroves and along the shoreline.

Note: Take care when driving. The road is very rough because of tide erosion.

Abercrombie Park

3800 Park St. N, St. Petersburg.

This is a beautiful city park where the rules are clearly posted: Park opens 30 minutes before sunrise, closes 30 minutes after sunset. Keep dogs on a leash no longer than 6 feet. Cleaning up after your dog is ordered by city codes. Poop bags are available throughout the park.

A quarter-mile paved path lined by low-hanging oak trees (duck!) leads to the small dog bathing area. There is a twisting boardwalk with no railings so be careful. My daredevil dog chased a lizard over the edge and practically hung herself from her leash.

The beach is disappointing for swimming, but the view is incredible. Dolphins swim and birds wade in the shallow inlet. Private docks are only 100 feet from the beach so be aware of property lines. Broken shells cover the wading area, so wear shoes and check the dogs' paws after playing in the water.

A word of warning: Young, well-dressed men seemed to wander around and hang out. To my experienced eyes, it had all the signs of a place where gay hookups could happen.

Reason for paws

Bicentennial Park

591 Madeira Beach Causeway, Madeira Beach, wedged between the Tom Stuart Causeway and Madeira Beach Middle School.

This place was a huge disappointment and even dangerous in places.

To start with, the park is hard to find. If you blink twice you'll miss the little bumpy dirt road marked "School Traffic Only." Who knew that was the way to the beach?

Poop bags are tacked to the park entryway telling folks dogs are allowed, but that's where the welcome signs end.

The east end of the small beach is unsafe. Giant slabs of broken, seaweed-covered bridge pillars lie at the water's edge. Ironically, the best swimming area sits 50 feet away from speeding traffic. Locals let their dogs run loose, but think hard before taking dogs off their leash. There aren't any fences.

Frolicking in the water for non-swimming or short legged dogs is difficult. The shallow water line is only about 3 feet offshore and drops quickly to bridge channel depth.

If none of this bothers you or your dog, the park does have positives. The only two benches in the park sit in full sun, but a mass of pine trees provides nice shade. The park has numerous well-emptied garbage cans and appears fairly clean. The beach is sandy and free of glass or sharp shells.

Fourth Street Causeway

Areas on east and west side of Fourth Street N just before the Howard Frankland Bridge.

Dogs galore here, but let's just say ... NIGHTMARE!

Seaweed is thick and disgusting. Garbage is trapped everywhere. The water is stagnant. It smells terrible! There is a cleaner area on the west side of Fourth Street, but be cautious because it is also a busy boat launching area. Drivers blindly back trailers into the water. It's a popular spot for fishermen and their dogs, but be careful and wear nose plugs.

Take your dog for a refreshing dip 06/18/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 18, 2008 3:43pm]

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