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Thanks to the Bradenton Herald for covering this issue.
Dog owners unleash issue
Herald Staff Writer
SARASOTA – It started out as a peaceful day in the park.
Jonathan Pettus of the Sapphire Shores neighborhood was busy training his 10-month-old puppy named Buca while chatting with friends in Sun Circle Park.
A few feet away, a group of children was devouring pizza at a birthday party and occasionally racing over to pet the neighborhood dogs.
From the corner of his eye, Pettus noticed a Sarasota County animal control officer approaching his neighbors who were relaxing in lounge chairs with dogs by their sides.
“The next thing I know, animal control just starts writing tickets like there is no tomorrow,” Pettus said. “The first citation she wrote was for a guy who had a Dachshund in his lap. Then, she ticketed a blind man whose seeing eye dog was three feet away from him lying in the grass.”
When the animal control officer began writing a citation for an 80-year-old man sitting in a beach chair holding his 4-pound Yorkshire terrier, Pettus said he began questioning the officer’s actions.
The animal control officer said the residents were in violation of county law that requires all dogs to be leashed.
Pettus said he has lived in Sapphire Shores for 11 years and never once saw anyone being ticketed for their dogs being off a leash.
“I looked at the officer and said, ‘You mean to say if I take my dog off his leash right now you are going to cite me?’ ” Pettus asked, as he grabbed his dog’s collar, removed the leash and threw it on the ground.
The officer quickly wrote Pettus a ticket.
“I felt like we were being harassed by animal control,” Pettus said. “The county, to be frank, is acting like a bunch of thugs.”
Four Sapphire Shores residents were cited for violating the county’s leash laws on Sept. 27. The following day, resident Anne Fordham received a similar ticket after bringing her border collie, Gus, to the park without a leash.
“I thought I was about to get handcuffed, that’s how rude this officer was,” Fordham said.
After the incident, Pettus and his neighbors began researching the county’s leash ordinance and discovered, while dogs in the county are required to wear a leash, the city allows unleashed dogs if they are “within reasonable voice control of its owner” and no more than 100 feet away.
The Sapphire Shores residents, who live in the city limits, decided to take their case to the Sarasota City Commission.
Sarasota City Attorney Robert Fournier told the commission Monday that city residents should not be cited for violating the county’s leash laws, even though the county ordinance says it applies within the city limits.
Fournier contacted the county attorney’s office, requesting the animal control officer not pursue the violations against the residents.
However, Fournier also said the city’s leash law is unenforceable because it does not comply with Florida statutes for the regulation of animals. Fournier told the commission they could continue to allow dogs to be unleashed, but the city would have to establish guidelines for the violation of the ordinance and regulations for “dangerous dogs” as defined by the state.