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    Tarpon decides pet owners should pick up -- or pay up

    The city expects that a warning will serve the purpose for most pet owners. If not, a $35 fine might.

    By KATHERINE GAZELLA

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 21, 2000


    TARPON SPRINGS -- When maintenance workers mow and weed-whack city property, they're always on the lookout for messes left behind by man's best friend.

    "A lot of time, they don't see it until it's too late," said Scott Witt, parks supervisor for Tarpon Springs.

    So it's no surprise that Witt is happy about a new city ordinance that would punish people who don't clean up after their dogs on public property or on someone else's private property. City commissioners voted 4-0 Tuesday night, with Commissioner Cindy Domino absent, to adopt the ordinance.

    Commissioner Beverley Billiris suggested the ordinance after receiving phone calls from residents who complained that pet owners didn't clean up after their dogs defecated on the callers' lawns.

    "I'm a true dog lover, but I don't think we need to allow our pets' feces to be on someone's property," Billiris said. "I don't feel that anyone should have their front yard used as a dumping ground."

    Everybody acknowledges that enforcement will be tricky.

    "Our police aren't going to run around and watch while dogs you know," Billiris said.

    But the goal of the ordinance isn't to catch every violator, she said. Rather, she said, the city wants to have a tool for punishing regular violators and to discourage people from not cleaning up after their pets.

    She said residents can notify code enforcement officials, who probably will issue warnings to violators. The city can levy civil fines of at least $35, but Billiris doesn't think that will be necessary.

    "I think a warning is going to be good enough," she said.

    Nancy Dively, a dog owner in Tarpon Springs, applauded the ordinance. She pointed out that dogs can catch diseases by stepping in the feces of other dogs, and she hopes the new ordinance will encourage people to carry plastic bags with them when they walk their dogs.

    "It doesn't take anything to clean up after your dog," said Dively, who has led the effort in the city to establish a dog park.

    The city of Oldsmar recently approved an ordinance prohibiting dogs and other animals from parks except in designated areas.

    Oldsmar City Council member Ed Manny sought the ordinance because too many dog owners do not pick up after their pets and allow their pets to get too close to children playing in parks.

    In response to similar complaints, Pinellas County commissioners recently added a phrase in the county park ordinance that requires pet owners to clean up after their animals.

    - Katherine Gazella can be reached at (727) 445-4182 or gazella@sptimes.com.

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