DUNEDIN — Dunedin dog-walkers, the city's got a new law: fetch a leash or pay up.
Any animal found in public without a leash could net its owner an $88 ticket, city commissioners voted Thursday. Leashes can be no longer than 16 feet. Exceptions are the Happy Tails Dog Park and guide pets used by the handicapped.
The unanimously passed ordinance breaks with Pinellas County code, which says dogs can still be under "physical control" if they respond to visual signals or voice commands. Nine residents at City Hall Thursday said that suited them just fine.
"We bought our house in Dunedin specifically because we like to take our dogs off the leash," said Eileen Cullen, whose dogs Jimi and Pup-Pup ran often in Hammock Park. "Most of the people that do let their dogs off the leash in the park, they are very responsible."
The ones who aren't, however, have led to years of complaints and dog scares in public parks. Deputies and parks staff were frustrated, commissioners said, that they had little legal power to police free-running dogs.
The new law does afford animal owners some running room. The once-proposed 6-foot length limit more than doubled to accommodate retractable leashes, and Mayor Dave Eggers asked if the city could ease the law even more with a warning system or cheaper fees.
"I don't want to be balancing the budget on fines," he said.
City Attorney John Hubbard, however, said the $88 was determined by the county court and that a three-strikes system would become an "administrative and law enforcement nightmare."
Some residents said the real headache for deputies would come from unnecessary patrolling.
"Are we really going to waste time and money for policemen to be out there when there's other things to be worrying about," asked Dunedin resident Lisa Rosenow.
"I think we have bigger and better problems to be worrying about than if people have a leash on their dog."
A 6-foot leash law once pitched to the city after a dog died from a fight was deemed unnecessary in 2007, said parks superintendent Art Finn.
Also included in the ordinance: animals aren't allowed on public playgrounds, owners need consent to take animals onto private property, and animal waste needs to be immediately removed.
Drew Harwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4170.