Revised city regulation to require leashing of dogs in all parks, except in areas designated for the animals

City Commission also directs staff to work on creating more dog parks

People walk their dogs at Bayfront Park on a cool March morning. File photo

An amendment to the City of Sarasota’s leash law that the City Commission called for this week will make it necessary for all dog owners to keep their pets leashed except in designated dog parks.

The board asked the city attorney to draft the revised ordinance, which would apply to all city parks, as well as those facilities within the city limits that Sarasota County maintains.

The board also called for new dog parks, with the locations to be settled upon after consultation with the public and the city’s Parks, Recreation and Environmental Protection Advisory Board (PREP).

Commissioner Susan Chapman voted against amending the ordinance, but she joined the rest of her colleagues in supporting the effort to create more dog parks.

During a presentation Jerry Fogle, the city’s director of parks and recreation, explained that on Jan. 3, the board asked staff to facilitate a discussion of the Dog Leash Ordinance during a PREP board meeting. That was done on Jan. 19, Fogle noted.

Carl Shoffstall (left) and Jerry Fogle address the City Commission on Feb. 6. News Leader photo

As a result, Carl Shoffstall, chair of the PREP board, continued, the PREP board members offered three recommendations:

  • The approval of the amendment requiring leashing of dogs at all times in the parks.
  • That the city develop — “in sufficient numbers” — dedicated dog parks after working with “concerned citizens” to determine the parks’ locations, including specified areas within existing parks where dogs can be confined away from the general public.
  • That dog parks “will be the only places where dogs will be allowed to run off-leash” and that the dog parks will be developed “with the advice and consent [of the PREP] Advisory Board.”

The only off-leash dog park in the city is at Arlington Park, a staff memo notes. Two others are under development. They tentatively will be in Gillespie Park and Whitaker Gateway Park, the memo adds.

“How does this line up with the county?” Commissioner Suzanne Atwell asked City Attorney Robert Fournier, referring to the recommendation for revising the city law.

“The county has a general prohibition that all of these animals have to be leashed, wherever they are,” Fournier replied. Confusion followed the city’s adoption of the county’s Animal Control Ordinance, he said, because the city wanted to maintain control over the leashing issue in its parks. “There is, as you know, a mish-mash of regulations now, and I think the PREP board was looking to simplify things.”

Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown. File photo

Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown pointed out that only four city parks require dogs to be kept on-leash at all times: Bayfront/Island Park, Gillespie Park, Payne Park and the areas of Arlington Park outside the designated dog park section. “Just so the public understands the breadth of the issue,” Brown added.

“Since I’m in that Bayfront Park every morning,” Chapman began, “I feel an obligation to speak up for some of my dog friends, that, in general, there is not a problem with dogs in that park.”

However, she added, she has noticed people not picking up their dogs’ waste and, at times, a lack of bags the city is supposed to make available to the public to collect that waste.
In general, Chapman reiterated her comment, “they are peaceable dogs” in Bayfront Park. People had requested only that dogs be able to run off-leash for a limited period in that facility, she noted.

Still, having served in the past as the city’s “dangerous dog” hearing officer, Chapman continued, “I do understand … that a lot of people are afraid of dogs … and that not every dog is a good dog.”

“All I want is simplicity and consistency,” Atwell responded. The PREP board’s recommendations encourage the development of more dog parks, she pointed out, “and I think we all want that.”

Then Atwell told her colleagues, “I’ve been bitten by a couple of dogs, and I am down at the bayfront — not in the morning, but in the afternoon.” She also walks the Ringling Bridge, she continued, “and I’ve had dogs approach me on the bridge.”
Atwell added that she walks in all the city’s parks. “Even dogs on a long leash have come up to me and scared the daylights out of me. And I do not want to hear … ‘Oh, he won’t hurt you …’”

“For the health and safety of the city on many different levels,” Atwell said, “I would like to see [the amended ordinance] enacted … and I hope to get more doggie parks.”

Commissioner Suzanne Atwell. News Leader photo

Chapmen then told her colleagues, “I hope that we don’t fence off [part of] Bayfront Park … because the fenced area will kind of destroy the ambiance of that space.”

“I agree,” Atwell responded.

Atwell made the motion to direct Fournier and his staff to draft the revised law; Commissioner Liz Alpert seconded it.

Atwell also made the motion to direct staff to follow the PREP board’s second and third recommendations regarding the gathering of public comments in an effort to create more dog parks and more designated dog park space in existing facilities. At Alpert’s suggestion, Atwell included the stipulation that no dog park area will be created in Bayfront Park.

That motion passed unanimously.