Dog park issues may lead to more exotic pet rules
PUNTA GORDA — In response to complaints over a handful of unruly dogs at the city’s Hounds on Henry Dog Park, the City Council endorsed an ordinance Wednesday that would establish more specific dog-handling regulations.
That discussion sparked reconsideration of an existing city code that gives the council the authority to grant permits for residents to possess one elephant, but no lions, bears or tigers.
City Attorney David Levin suggested he and Police Chief Albert “Butch” Arenal draft a separate ordinance to either prohibit residents from possessing such wild animals — as well as snakes — or allow them with a council permit.
“Obviously, the concern is escapes,” Arena said. He cited past run-ins with monkeys, coyotes and bears.
Arenal also cited a warning from state wildlife officials to expect escaped pythons to be invading Cecil Webb Wildlife Management Area soon.
At the time Chapter 5 of city code, titled “Animals and Fowl,” was drafted, “I don’t think (council members) were considering people keeping wild animals, including snakes, as pets,” Levin said.
City Manager Howard Kunik proposed the ordinance in response to an increasing number of complaints from dog owners using the dog park. The complaints ranged from “adversarial and aggressive dogs” to dog owners who gave treats to other people’s dogs without permission, he said.
The city has posted rules at the park. However, to cite someone, city officers must turn to the “Animals and Fowl” chapter, which is “antiquated,” according to Levin.
The code makes it a civil infraction for any person to keep an animal in any manner that creates “an unsanitary or obnoxious condition or so as to disturb the peace.”
The proposed ordinance, which must be approved at a second reading to be ratified, would prohibit nine specific nuisances. They include animals that:
• are repeatedly found at large.
• molest or intimidate passersby
• chase cars
• make disturbing noises.
“I feel like we’re getting into the animal-control realm, and I’m not sure we need to be there,” said Councilwoman Rachel Keesling.
Arenal was asked how officers enforce an existing “pooper scooper” provision.
“We actually stop people at random and pat them down for baggies,” he joked.
“In Punta Gorda, which is animal-friendly, our dogs are like our kids,” Arenal explained. “Sometimes, they fight. It’s just the nature of the beast. Normally, we handle it with no problem.”
Councilwoman Carolyn Freeland pointed out the elephant provision grants city staffers access to inspect an elephant’s quarters.
That provision was drafted in the 1940s after a property owner kept two elephants as an attraction. One was male and the other female, and they called to each other every night, Freeland said.
Kunik said he didn’t have the heart to delete that section.
“It was just one of those historic things that we just loved,” he said.