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Sarasota Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022 7 months ago

City Commission looks to make Sarasota more dog friendly

City commissioners made a motion to analyze where dog parks can be installed in Sarasota, citing a lack of dedicated spaces.
by: Blake Fussell Staff Writer

Sarasota City Commissioner Hagen Brody presented the idea of making Sarasota a more dog-friendly area during a commission meeting Jan. 3, suggesting setting aside space in existing parks for dogs to have access to both open space and water.

Brody mentioned the high density of dog owners in Sarasota’s downtown area who have limited options on where to take their dogs. Brody suggested using space below the Ringling Bridge in Bird Key Park and Ken Thompson Park, both of which provide space that has not been heavily utilized.

“It’s important for our community to be known as a dog-friendly community,” Brody said. “It’s important that pet owners are able to let their dogs play in water, whether or it’s beach or bay. The other cause of concern is that our downtown has a tremendous amount of dog owners and only two dog parks that are heavily used.”

Brody compared a plan used by nearby Venice, where parts of the beach are separated for those who wish to bring their dog and those that do not. Venice’s setup has been very popular but has required a long drive for downtown residents.

Although creating more dog-friendly areas could appear to be an inclusive decision without consequence, Brody brought up environmental concerns such as preserving wildlife on Lido Beach, an area where he initially suggested to be partially dedicated for dogs.

“I assumed there would be concerns upon wildlife issues if we did this on Lido Beach,” he said. “I want staff to fully explore that. The endangered species and birds that nest here are important for our ecosystems.”

Kylee Wilson, a Sarasota-area resident who attended the commission meeting, has spent time analyzing the bird population on Lido Beach. She explained how adding a dog park on the beach would be detrimental to the birds’ habitat and also recommended Ken Thompson Park as an alternative.

Ken Thompson Park, often used for boaters but has rarely seen significant foot traffic, has a large open field to go along with grills, benches and other amenities. The idea shared by Brody and Wilson was to further accommodate parts of the park specifically for dogs as an easy and quick solution.

“I love Ken Thompson Park where the big field could easily become a fenced-in area,” Wilson said. “I think that is a really great route. It is super under-utilized and I think it would bring a lot of good attention to the corner.”

Vice Mayor Kyle Scott Battie and Commissioners Liz Alpert and Jen Ahearn-Koch voiced support of finding ways to make Sarasota more dog friendly. The commissioners agreed on a motion to analyze where and how dog parks can be implemented on city property.

In the meantime, dog owners have utilized the facilities in place. Sarasota resident Max Taylor walked with his dog, Miga, through Bird Key Park on Friday, which he often does to get Miga exercise.

“Bird Key is a nice, long walk. This is where we usually go and it’s great. In the summer time it’s usually breezy and Miga is super fluffy, so we like it,” Taylor said. “But there could always be more done for dogs.”

Phil Stephen, joined by his family and two dogs, strolled through Bird Key Park on Tuesday. While he lives just a short walk away from the park, he recognized a clear shortage of areas dedicated to dogs in Sarasota.

Unlike Taylor, Stephen said he “takes his dogs everywhere." While Sarasota has offered many beautiful, open areas, he said there is a need for more dog-centered spaces.

“I don’t think there’s an issues with space, I think there’s an issue with space for dogs,” Stephen said. “There’s so many parks and beaches and some of them should be catered towards dogs.”

“And we understand the poop. We understand the problems that come with that,” Stephen continued. “But that’s why we need dedicated areas. Bird Key is one of the few places they can get in the water but technically, they’re not even supposed to here.”

Information regarding park dog restrictions can be found on the Sarasota County website under the “Dog Parks and Dog-Friendly Parks” tab.

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