No one misses the services of a mobile dog-wash business more than Ron Spence and his chocolate Labrador retriever, Brantlee.
Brantlee, who has been a regular at the 17th Street Paw Park for more than four years, used to able to count on Bubbles Mobile Dog Wash to make sure his coat was gleaming clean before he went home.
Last year, however, Sarasota County Parks and Recreation staff told the service’s owner, Larry Kelly, he no longer could operate at the park.
“Brantlee jumps in every mud hole he sees, and we miss the service a lot,” Spence said. “It was a great service that was totally self-contained, and it was a huge loss to the park.”
Dog owners say they are upset and frustrated about the county’s decision.
Kelly’s company, Bubbles Mobile Dog Wash, had been a regular fixture at the park for 15 months. Kelly told the Sarasota Observer he was shocked when a county employee called him in September and abruptly told him to end his service there.
Kelly said he believed that action was related to the scandal that erupted last spring in the Sarasota County Procurement Department.
“I’m not a vendor like a hot-dog vendor that should have to solicit bids to be at the park,” Kelly said. “I’m the only one in town that performs a mobile dog service that’s more of a community service.”
Sarasota resident and longtime park user Mark Bolten sent an email to Sarasota County Parks and Recreation General Manager Carolyn Brown in November, expressing his dismay about the decision.
“Normally, we would get our dog washed like clockwork once a week, which was handled by (the) small dog-washing business,” Bolten said. “(Bubbles’) footprint in the park was very small; it was an attraction and a much-needed service for the dog community.”
The decision about the service followed the completion of a pilot program operated by Friends of Sarasota County Parks.
“Mr. Kelly’s business was not the only one (affected),” said Brown, adding that a different dog-washing business was told it no longer could provide services at Brohard Paw Park in Venice.
According to County Commission discussions with Brown last October, residents had complained about what they called commercialization in county parks, after the Friends group had worked with firms to sponsor park facilities, and put up appropriate signage, during the pilot program.
Over the next year, Brown said, county staff will be undertaking a comprehensive analysis of the issue.
“If the decision were to be made that this is a service we would want to pursue in the future, the opportunity would be formally advertised to allow anyone with a similar business the same opportunity (to bid),” Brown said. “Vendors would submit a proposal,” she said, “and one, or maybe two, vendors would be selected.”
Kelly said he designed and built his Sarasota-based, all-green, truck-based service after he lost his construction-engineering job four years ago. He said the county decision diminished his income for four months. Finally, he said, he was able to find other locations where he could park his truck and provide dog washes.
Kelly said other communities around the country accept companies like his at parks. They allow the businesses to apply for permits, he said.
“This is too good of a service for the county not to consider it anymore,” Kelly said. “If Sarasota County wants to label itself as a progressive forward-thinking county, they have to figure out a way to be receptive to these types of services that their residents want.”
Kelly isn’t hopeful he’ll be invited back to the 17th Street Paw Park anytime soon, and that’s frustrating to the dog owners who counted on the washes after their canines finished cavorting and rolling in the dirt.
“It would seem to me that good common sense would prevail and the county could take the steps necessary to help us with our modest request to make our community a better place for our four-legged fury friends and their owners,” Bolten said.