City commissioners chose not to include an exemption process in the ordinance that would give residents means to make some parks "leash optional."
Dog owners in Sarasota must now keep their pets on leashes in public parks, unless the park has a fenced-in area specifically for dogs, thanks to a July 17 vote by the City Commission.
This decision comes after a months-long dispute centering on Sun Circle Park in the Indian Beach-Sapphire Shores neighborhood, which residents wanted to be a "leash optional" park, exempt from the new regulations.
The debate at the most recent meeting wasn’t centered on whether or not to require dogs to be on leashes, but on whether or not to define an exception process in the new ordinance that would allow dogs to go off-leash in some public parks, and particularly in Sun Circle Park.
On July 17, 13 Sarasota residents spoke in front of the commission, most of whom were from the neighborhood around Sun Circle Park.
Some expressed interest in letting dogs go off leash. Some told stories of how they themselves and their pets were attacked by off-leash dogs. Some said they never had any problems in the park with their dogs or others’. Some talked about their own history with good dogs, but still said they feel it’s safest if leashes are required in public parks.
“You know we have to make the tough decision,” Commissioner Hagen Brody said to fellow commissioners. “I don’t like seeing neighbors fighting with each other over this. I’d rather they be fighting with us, frankly.”
Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Fogel said early on in the meeting he would recommend going with the leash rule, with no exceptions.
“My main concern for all our parks, all our recreational amenities, is safety first,” he said. “And I don’t feel that having off-leash makes that happen.”
Ultimately, commissioners decided to err on the side of caution when it comes to citizens’ safety, and exclude an exemption process from the leash ordinance.
If a citizen has an issue with a park and thinks dogs should be allowed to go off-leash, they must now contact the Parks and Recreation Department, who will look into possible solutions.
City staff also plans to look into what existing public parks could be turned into dog parks.