Tarpon Springs may revise its prohibition against animals in the city's parks after 120 residents sign a petition.
TARPON SPRINGS - Some residents want the city to loosen the leash on a ban on dogs in city parks.
About 120 Tarpon Springs residents signed and sent a petition to the City Commission asking the city to repeal - or at least revise - a rule banning animals from city parks.
Nancy Dively, who is leading residents' effort, complains the rule is too restrictive and discriminates against animal lovers.
"It's not fair for people with dogs," Dively said. "We feel we're being singled out."
Dively, 51, regularly walks her dogs, Bella and Annie, a few blocks from her home near Craig Park. But for years, Dively has found herself on the outside looking in when it comes to taking her canine companions for a stroll in the city's parks.
"It's a neighborhood park," she said. "People who live in the neighborhood should be able to enjoy it with or without pets."
Some city officials agree.
Mayor Beverley Billiris and Commissioner Peter Nehr support changing the rule. Billiris isn't sure dogs should be allowed in all city parks, but at least they should be allowed in Craig Park.
"People should be able to walk their dogs in that park," she said.
City Commissioners plan to discuss the issue at Tuesday's meeting.
Under current city rules, animals are not allowed in any of the city's 15 public parks, unless their owners are blind or physically challenged. Those who fail to comply or clean up after their dogs face fines ranging from $81 to $152.
Police officers are not overly zealous about enforcing the law, but they do what they have to do, said Tarpon Springs police Capt. Robert Kochen.
"If an officer is sitting at the park and he sees a person with a dog, he'll probably tell them to leave," Kochen said. "We do have an ordinance on the books, and if push comes to shove, we'll enforce it."
Tarpon Springs' restriction against animals in parks appears to be a rarity in Pinellas County.
Largo, Clearwater and St. Petersburg allow pet owners to walk their dogs in most city parks if dogs are on leashes and owners clean up after them. The county enforces the same restrictions in its parks but, as in many other coastal areas of Florida, bars dogs at beaches.
In Tarpon Springs, dog owners can walk their pets on city sidewalks and at the city's dog park on Live Oak Street near the corner of Safford Avenue.
Dively said she talked to several city officials about allowing owners to walk their dogs on leashes. But she decided to take her fight to City Hall shortly after a police officer told her to leave when she walked her dogs near the perimeter of the park.
Both Billiris and Nehr realize that allowing dogs in parks, even on leashes, would mean the city would have to get tougher on dog owners who fail to clean up after their pets.
"If all the parks in Pinellas allow their parks to have dogs on a leash, then we should allow dogs on a leash in our park," Nehr said. "But then people with dogs will have to understand that we will have to do stricter enforcement with people about cleaning up."
That's the way it should be, said Kathie Hallett of Tarpon Springs.
Before her dog's death several years ago, Hallett used to walk her golden retriever around Craig Park. Her cat, Bluey, still follows her to the park occasionally and she worries that might earn her a ticket.
"It's not fair," Hallett said. "I don't have dogs now but I love going by the park and seeing it used by the dog people - it's a social thing."
- Candace Rondeaux can be reached at 727 771-4307 or email@example.com