A woman wearing a dog costume at the annual Surf Dog Competition in Imperial Beach found out she was caninus non grata when sheriff’s deputies asked her to leave at the request of the event’s sponsors.
According to Elizabeth Pearson, the owner of the pet-grooming business IB Groomin’, a representative of Loews Coronado Bay Resort requested that deputies ask her to leave the beach where the event was about to start on Pier Plaza on Saturday, June 22.
Pearson said she had been handing out flyers in her costume as she has done in previous years. This year, her business was one of several local dog-related businesses that were not invited to participate because Loews was working exclusively with Petco in sponsoring the event.
“I was in a bright yellow dog suit,” Pearson said. “As soon as we set foot on the beach, one of the Loews people asked us if we have a vendor permit.” Soon after, Pearson was approached by sheriff’s deputies several times until she left about an hour later. She said she was told "I wasn't allowed to be promoting my business" and the whole incident was "kind of confusing" because "I've been doing this with Loews since 2009…. It was like we were being shunned.”
Lt. Marco Garmo at the Imperial Beach substation of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department said there is a “gray area” to such disputes.
“Is wearing a dog costume on the beach a criminal act? No,” Garmo said. “Is handing out flyers for your business at an authorized event a criminal act? Maybe.” He said officers in this kind of situation prefer to use mediation rather than treat it as a criminal matter, and if the situation had gone further, "we'd do the mediation thing."
Garmo said that rather than take the word of just one side in this kind of dispute, “We're an intelligent enough agency that we're going to investigate for ourselves what's going on.” Deputies have to be careful because "people try to drag us into civil issues," he said. Garmo confirmed that deputies were told by the event coordinator that “the person in the dog suit was an unauthorized vendor.”
Pearson was at the event after friends — upon hearing that her company was not invited — told her on the day of the event that Jersey Boys Diner would allow her to set up a booth in their parking lot. The diner is adjacent to Pier Plaza.
Pearson said she was particularly irked when two additional deputies came and questioned her when she was getting into her car to leave. "I was already gone,” Pearson said. “I don't understand why they were coming after me."
The owners of IB Pet, another company that was not invited this year, started a “Support Local” campaign in response to not being allowed to participate in the Surf Dog Competition. “We have supported Loews for years as they are a pet friendly hotel/resort just up the road from us,” said Lori and Russell Blauert in an open letter they posted online, “and this news is very disheartening to us, our staff and our local customers!”
Loews Coronado Bay Resort did not comment.