Sarasota County Parks and Recreation staff has asked the Siesta Key Association for help in spreading the word that not only are dogs illegal on the island’s beaches, but that dog waste is unwelcome everywhere.
More tourists on the Key translate into more violations of the “no dogs on the beach” county ordinance, Sgt. Scott Osborne, of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, said.
“We’re always seeing an increase … this time of year,” he said, referring to season.
Although deputies have not been writing citations, they have been warning tourists that it is unlawful for them to bring their pets on the public beach. The deputies tell them that dogs are welcome on Brohard Beach, in Venice.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, we’ll never see (those dogs) again.”
However, Osborne said, tourists are not the only offenders — some Key residents allow their dogs to run on the beach.
If a deputy catches a person in the act, Osborne said, the deputy will not hesitate to write a citation.
SKA President Catherine Luckner told members Feb. 2 that the dog issue is especially problematic this time of year, because the imperiled snowy plovers were arriving; they usually start their nesting season in March.
People who live in condos and homes near the beach “just let their dogs run loose (on the beach), not even on a leash,” Luckner said. “Those of us involved (as volunteers to protect the birds) witnessed this almost nightly (last year),” she added. “It’s hard to police that.”
Luckner said in an email that a dog running within 100 yards of a nest will prompt the abandonment of that nest.
Carolyn Brown, general manager of Parks and Recreation, said that all entrances to the Key’s beach accesses have signs warning that dogs are not allowed.
The county also has paid for new kiosks that will be going up at the accesses, she said, with information about how harmful it is to have dogs near the snowy plovers.
A companion problem, Luckner told her members, is that county staff has been reporting more incidents of people not picking up their dogs’ waste.
Luckner pointed to copies of a flyer she had brought to the meeting. Distributed by the Sarasota Bay and Tampa Bay estuary programs, the flyers encourage people to pick up after their pets.
Each includes the quote, “Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey estimate that pet waste may be responsible for 20% to 30% of the harmful bacteria found in America’s urban waterways.”
The biggest concern about dog waste on Siesta, she said, is that it doesn’t go away unless there is a heavy rain. And even then, it is washed into canals and the Gulf of Mexico. If bacteria builds to sufficient levels, she added, that can necessitate beach closures, because the bacteria can make people sick.
“We do not want to have beach closures on our perfectly beautiful, No. 1 beach,” Luckner said.
Brown said her staff also is distributing flyers to condominium homeowners associations.
Luckner pointed out that the SKA received a county grant about five years ago that has enabled it to keep six pet-waste stations stocked with bags on Midnight Pass Road. Yet, many people apparently are unaware of that, she said.
Unfortunately, the biodegradable bags are disappearing rapidly from the stations.
“We don’t know if (the persons taking them) have a pack of dogs or are helping their condominium,” Luckner said with a laugh.
“This is not an anti-dog issue,” Luckner added. A dog-lover herself, Luckner said she always makes sure she bags the waste of her pet when she walks him.
In some well-known beach communities, such as Hilton Head, S.C., Luckner said, posters are on display in numerous places, even hotel elevators, to remind people to pick up dog waste and that many condos and hotels have dog waste stations.
SKA Director Joe Volpe asked Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson whether it would be possible for the county to require rental firms and condominium complexes to provide information to all visitors regarding the county’s leash and pet-waste laws.
“That’s not a bad idea,” Patterson said, “but I think most condos that do rent probably don’t rent to people with dogs, but I could be wrong about that.”
SKA member Katherine Zimmerman pointed out that picking up pet waste is basically a uniform law everywhere.
“Why wouldn’t (tourists) think it’s not here?”
“Everybody thinks of the beach as a place to be free,” Luckner said.
That was all the more reason, she said, that the SKA and county officials needed to make sure residents and visitors alike were aware of the ramifications of dogs on the beach and the failure to pick up their waste.
The Sarasota Bay and Tampa Bay estuary programs have collaborated on a flyer members are distributing throughout the region to encourage people to clean up after their dogs.
With the headers, “Getting the Scoop on Poop” and “Scoop that Poop!” the flyer asks, “What’s worse than picking up dog poop? The answer: “Stepping in it.”
The follow-up question asks, “What’s even worse than that?”
The answer: “Swimming in it, fishing in or drinking water that has dog poop in it.”
The flyer adds, “Rainwater can wash those little presents your pooch leaves on the ground into streams and rivers leading to Sarasota Bay or directly to the bay itself. Just like human waste, dog poop poses a threat to both public health and water quality. It contributes to harmful bacteria that can make people ill, as well as excessive nutrients that cause algae blooms and rob the water of oxygen needed to support fish and other aquatic life.
“Join the ‘Pooches for the Planet’ pack,” the flyer says, “and pick up after your dog. It’s easy, it’s neighborly, and it’s the healthy thing to do … for you and for Sarasota Bay.”
For more information, the flyer directs the public to the estuary program websites: www.sarasotabay.org and www.tbep.org.