In response to concerns about owners illegally taking their dogs onto Siesta’s beaches, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Animal Services Department is stepping up patrols at beach accesses.
Officer Patrick Schurr told Siesta Key Association members March 1 that he had written two citations over the past week, during three patrol periods at Beach Accesses 3 and 10.
The previous evening, Schurr said, he had found a man letting a 120-pound Rottweiler run up and down the beach. “He wasn’t happy about it,” Schurr said of the owner, when Schurr approached him, “but it went well, as far as he signed the citation.”
In the other incident, Schurr said, he had spotted a woman with a dog on the beach. “She crumpled up (her copy of) the ticket,” he said, after she signed it. “She lives here,” he added, “and she knew about the (county) ordinance” forbidding dogs on Siesta beaches.
One of the primary problems relative to enforcing the ordinance barring dogs on the beaches, he said, is the response time for Animals Services officers to reach a location after someone has reported a violation.
Calls come in randomly during the day, he said. By the time they arrive, about 20 minutes later, the person with the dog usually is gone.
He pointed out that the department has only three officers who work routinely during the off-season. However, Schurr referred to a comment earlier in the meeting from Sgt. Scott Osborne, leader of the Sheriff’s Office’s Community Policing Station in Siesta Village. With the peak time for spring-break tourism on the Key having arrived, Osborne said, the Sheriff’s Office would have 30 to 40 extra deputies helping with general patrols.
Schurr told the SKA members that any deputy could write a citation for a violation of the dog ordinance.
“There’s no point in calling an Animal Services officer from downtown Sarasota or from down east of Interstate 75 (if deputies already are nearby),” he added.
Yet another option is available to deal with a specific incident, he said: “I need two witnesses who are willing to sign a sworn witness statement, saying (they) saw (a) violation.” Witnesses also can provide Animal Services with photos of offending owners and written details about when they observed the specific circumstances, including who the dog owner is and the person’s address — if they know the latter information.
If he receives such sworn statements, Schurr added, he could go to the offender’s home and write a citation.
“That’s especially helpful,” SKA President Catherine Luckner told him.
Last summer, she said, when volunteers working to protect the endangered snowy plovers on the Key saw people letting their dogs run loose, the volunteers were unaware they could take such action.
In response to questions about whom to call if someone observes a violation, Schurr said the Animal Services Department number is 861-9500. However, he said, a dispatcher is on duty at that number only during business hours. A person may call the non-emergency number for the Sheriff’s Office at any time and request assistance in regard to a dog-ordinance violation, he added. That number is 316-1201.
Additionally, Schurr said, violations can add up. For example, he said, if he finds a person letting a dog run free, the fine for a first offense is $50; for a second offense, $200; and for a third offense, the person must appear in court. If an owner does not pick up dog waste, Schurr added, the owner can be cited under the “Public Nuisance” part of the county ordinance. That violation carries a $100 fine for a first offense. It’s a $200 fine for a second offense, and a $350 fine for a third offense.
“So there can be multiple violations with just a dog being on the beach,” he pointed out.
Luckner told him she recently had had numerous calls from residents who had been upset to see people with dogs on the beach and had felt helpless about how to respond.
“Just the fact that there are some targeted efforts (by law enforcement officers), to be at strategic areas where (violations are) likely to happen,” was good news, she said.
“I am so thankful that you went out there this week,” she added.
“It’s not hard to find violations,” Schurr told the audience. “I think, with regular patrols … the owners, the people who live here, will see our vehicles, and that might persuade them not to come out (with their dogs).”
However, Schurr said, “I don’t think we’ll ever stop the people who come out here one week out of the year … ”
When Luckner asked whether deputies and Animal Services officers explain to a dog owner that the county has areas where dogs can run free, Schurr replied that officers will talk to a person about those options, if the person seems receptive.
Rabies tags often missing
During a March 1 presentation, Officer Patrick Schurr, of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office’s Animal Services Department, explained to members of the Siesta Key Association how law enforcement personnel handle concerns about whether dogs have been vaccinated for rabies.
In most cases, Schurr said, dogs with their owners — even on leashes in neighborhoods — do not have their rabies tags on their collars. He added that 90% of dogs he finds on the beach do not have any tags on them.
However, Schurr said, he can use a computer in his department van to check whether a dog has a current vaccination record.
A person from out-of-state has about two weeks to produce documentation showing a dog has been vaccinated, Schurr said.
“I could write rabies tickets all day long,” Schurr said about the absence of tags on dogs, “(but) that’s just one of those officer-discretion things.”
When asked what happens if someone has been bitten by a dog and the owner cannot produce proof that the animal has been vaccinated, Schurr said an officer would take the dog into quarantine for 10 days. “In that 10 days,” he said, “that animal would be very sick or dead,” if it had rabies.
In that event, he said, the person would have to be inoculated against rabies.
If the animal showed no signs of ill health, Schurr added, the dog-bite victim had no need to worry.
However, if the offending dog could not be located in a bite case, Schurr said, the victim would have no choice but to take the series of rabies shots.