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Pet-limiting ordinance no solution to problem

A Times Editorial
Published June 16, 2005

Mercifully, the County Commission on Tuesday put the proposed pet-limiting ordinance out of its misery. After being brutalized at the planning board level, this fledgling attempt to corral the county's various animal-related woes simply was too weak to go any further.

So now, all of the pet owners in Citrus County who feared that deputies were going to sweep into their living rooms and snatch up Fido and Muffy can sleep easier.

As for those with the misfortune of having neighborhood dogs that howl at the moon, getting a good night's sleep is a different matter.

Those residents, such as Commissioner Vicki Phillips, remain stuck with a nuisance that only will get worse as Citrus County continues to fill out with new homes and families - and their pets. Killing this proposed ordinance will do nothing to help quiet the noisy canines or the trespassing cats.

Phillips noted Tuesday that whenever there is a full moon, she knows she won't be getting much sleep. Even though she lives on a lot larger than 2 acres and does not own a dog, she knows the critters in the area will serenade her.

"They carry on a conversation all night," she said. But, as she pointed out, that's what dogs do.

This is hardly a minor matter. Commissioner Dennis Damato, who raised the animal concerns at a goal-setting meeting earlier this year, said Tuesday he has received more communications from constituents about the proposed ordinance than on any other issue. That includes hot-button topics such as raising impact fees and doubling the gas tax.

Other commissioners have heard from the public as well, and they wisely chose to back away from any new regulations that would limit the number of pets people can own.

The commissioners also agree that there is more work to be done on these problems. The county still has a critical situation at the Animal Control shelter, which is swamped with stray animals.

While Animal Control has an effective spay and neuter policy, the county's rules do not extend beyond their own operations. Animal rights groups and other advocates who battled the proposed ordinance in recent weeks must use that same energy to help the county spread the gospel of responsible pet ownership.

Phillips noted that the county's existing animal control ordinance addresses many of the complaints that the commissioners have heard from the public, but enforcement is problematic.

The nocturnal howling dogs, for example, may be quiet during the day when Animal Control officers respond to a neighbor's complaint. If the offended neighbor declines to sign an affidavit spelling out the complaint, there is nothing more the county can do to help.

Phillips also noted that the county must make a better effort at educating the public about the existing ordinance. She recounted a frustrating visit to the county's Web site to find the ordinance and suggested that the process be made more user-friendly.

The commissioners identified a handful of steps that the county should take to improve conditions for the public, with education being the common thread. As this flawed ordinance demonstrated, however, there may not be any magical legislative answer.

"I don't know that we can say we can find a solution," Phillips said. "Maybe there isn't one."

There is a solution, of course, and it is the same answer to such problems as obnoxious airboat drivers, illegal trash dumpers and other social ills: Use common sense and respect your neighbors. It is the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

As the commissioners decided on Tuesday, it is not something that the government can or should be trying to legislate.

[Last modified June 16, 2005, 00:40:20]

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