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Pinellas County paying more attention to its pets

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“It’s been a really great year for animals in Pinellas County.”

Those were the words of the Humane Society of Pinellas’ executive director, Sarah Brown, during her October 6 address to county commissioners — their first regular meeting of the month. Brown was speaking  in support of the commission’s proposed new amendments to the County Code’s Animal Services chapter.

If approved, the amendments will establish a classification and penalties for “irresponsible pet owners,” and permit Pinellas’ Animal Services to issue a citation for “bite incidents” to the owner of an animal that severely injures or kills another animal.

The amendments, which will be discussed further — prior to adoption — during a November 10 public hearing, come during a year that has already seen some major revisions to Pinellas’ Animal Services laws.

Since the start of 2015, the county has approved a no-tethering ordinance, and a three-year pilot “trap, neuter, vaccinate & release” (TNVR) program for cats.

The tethering ordinance, which went into effect on May 1, is intended to prevent dogs and cats from being left alone and tied in a yard. It states that an owner or keeper of a dog or cat that’s tethered must remain outside with the animal, keep the animal within sight, provide the animal with an appropriate size leash (one that will restrain the animal, but not hurt it), tether each animal separately, and not tether an animal that’s sick or injured.

Pending an investigation, citations and fines of up to $500 could be levied against owners who violate the ordinance.

With the TNVR program for cats, the goal is to humanely reduce the free-roaming, un-owned cat population in Pinellas County, by providing targeted TNVR assistance, caregiver support and advocacy.

As far as the newly proposed “bite incidents” ordinance changes go, they’re aimed at addressing pet owners whose pets have severely injured or killed another domestic animal while off the owner’s property.

“This ordinance and the proposed changes that you’ll hear on November 10 are focused on the owner,” said County Administrator Mark Woodard to the Commission.

As Pinellas’ laws are written now, the county can take no legal action against an owner of a pet that has severely injured or killed another domestic animal for the fist time. The act has to be done twice by an animal for the county to be able to step in — which is also state law.

However, the new changes will allow for the county to issue a fine of at least $300 to any owner who fails to prevent their “domestic animal” from severely injuring or killing another domestic animal while the owner’s animal is at large, or off its leash.   

“Through citations and other means,” continued Woodard, “we’re attempting and hoping to mitigate that second bite from ever occurring.”

The purpose of the other newly proposed ordinance, which deals with “irresponsible pet owners,” is to deter individuals from repeatedly failing to responsibly care for their domestic animals. It establishes two separate classes of irresponsible pet owners, each with different punishments.

A Class I irresponsible pet owner is a person with two previous convictions for animal safety and welfare violations — occurring on separate dates — who commits a third animal safety and welfare violation within 24 months of the initial offense. That person may be charged with a violation of the irresponsible pet owner section of Pinellas’ County Code and fined at least $300.

A Class II irresponsible pet owner is defined as a person who can be classified as a Class I irresponsible pet owner, but chooses not to comply with this code or to take corrective actions. This offense will be punishable by a minimum fine of $400.

Also, for a period of three years after the date of the most recent conviction, any person deemed a Class II irresponsible pet owner by the county will be required to have any owned dogs or cats be spayed/neutered and micro-chipped within the first 30 days. Any owned dogs or cats of that person’s will also result in an irresponsible pet owner license fee. And the owner won’t be legally allowed to own any new dogs or cats.

“Thank you all for your work on this,” Commissioner Ken Welch told Interim Director of Animal Services Doug Brightwell. “This has been a long time coming.”

Following the November 10 public hearing — if approved — the ordinances will be in effect countywide.

FUN FACT: “Animal” is defined by Pinellas’ County Code as “any living dumb creature.”

Devon Crumpacker is a Tampa Bay based writer and reporter for Extensive Enterprises Media. He primarily covers Pinellas County politics for SaintPetersblog.com, but also makes time to write the occasional bar review for FloridaBarTab.com. He lives in St. Petersburg with his fiance, Sydney. To contact, e-mail devon@floridapolitics.com, or visit his Twitter page @DevonCrumpacker.

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