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Riverview woman leads antitethering effort

Barbara LaPresti, shown with Zoomie, is leading an effort to restrict tethering of dogs in Hillsborough County. “Dogs are social, so for them to be isolated they become fearful.”

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

Barbara LaPresti, shown with Zoomie, is leading an effort to restrict tethering of dogs in Hillsborough County. “Dogs are social, so for them to be isolated they become fearful.”

RIVERVIEW — Seminole, Indian Shores and Gulfport ban it. In unincorporated Pinellas, owners can do so but only for a short period of time.

But in Hillsborough County, there are no specific laws against tethering a dog outside.

Riverview resident Barbara LaPresti is working to change that.

LaPresti, 40, has started a petition campaign she hopes will persuade county commissioners to pass a law prohibiting dog tethering throughout Hillsborough County.

"Dogs are social, so for them to be isolated they become fearful," LaPresti said. "They are also exposed to all the elements when tied up, so this is a several pronged problem."

The petition had about 800 signatures this week, including many gathered online, LaPresti said.

Hillsborough County's Animal Advisory Board formed a subcommittee to examine the issue, and the first hearing last month drew mixed reviews from an audience of nearly 40 people. Some favored the law, while others said a complete ban on tethering would hurt farmers and hunters in rural areas who reasonably need to tether.

Hillsborough County Animal Services director Bill Armstrong said some type of change needs to be made in the current law, but he cautioned the group to take its time in making a decision. He said if dogs are given proper shelter and water, tethering can be done responsibly.

In the end, the subcommittee requested more information from Armstrong, including data on similar ordinances in other parts of the state. The subject is expected to be brought up again during the advisory board's regular meeting Wednesday, Armstrong said.

Former Seminole City Council member Dan Hester got an anti-tethering ordinance approved in that Pinellas city last year.

"I think it's a health and safety issue for the community," said Hester, a former SPCA of Tampa Bay board member who is working with LaPresti to get the law enacted in Hillsborough. "If a dog is tethered, it doesn't have any place to go except the length of the chain. So it will fight to protect its ground."

Nationally, 13 states have some form of restrictions on dog chaining. California, Texas and Nevada limit the amount of time a dog may be tied up.

Dogs tethered for long periods of time are almost three times more likely to bite than those that are not, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

There remain people on both sides of the issue.

Lisa Walker-Hutches, president of the Mid Florida American Pit Bull Terrier Association, maintains there are valid reasons to tie a dog up outside. Outlawing it could put many responsible dog owners at risk, she said.

"Eastern Hillsborough is extremely rural, you have a lot of hunters in that area who have bird dogs," said Hutches. "These dogs can be high drive animals and a 6-foot fence may not contain that dog. If these owners don't have the ability to tether that animal they're putting that responsible owner in jeopardy."

In Valrico, Judith Seltrecht raises similar arguments. Although she does not tether her small Norfolk terrier, as secretary of the Hillsborough County Florida Dog Fanciers she knows of people who tether their dogs for a variety of reasons. One is a Ruskin cancer patient who uses a service dog. Another is a nurse who works 12-hour shifts. Tethering is also necessary, she said, in some subdivisions that do not allow backyard fences.

"I want to make sure that people who do this humanely and do it right are not going to lose their animals," she said.

The ordinance being proposed by LaPresti and Hester would not outright ban tethering. It would require that an owner be outside with the dog and limit the amount of time a dog can be tied up. The tether would be five times the length of the dog and swivels to prevent strangulation.

The dog would have to be older than 6 months and must also have access to water, shelter and dry ground when tethered.

"The community will be a safer place," LaPresti said. "Not only for people but for dogs as well."

Times staff writers Shelley Rossetter and Marlene Sokol contributed to this story. Rossetter can be reached at srossetter@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3374.

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For more information on the antitethering initiative, go to www.petitionspot.com/petitions/antitethering.

Riverview woman leads antitethering effort 11/11/10 [Last modified: Thursday, November 11, 2010 3:30am]
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