MADEIRA BEACH — Many municipalities in Pinellas County limit the number of household cats or dogs, but commissioners here want to take this beach city off that list.
"People do not understand why there have to be restrictions on the number of animals in their homes," Commissioner Sarah Nichols said at Tuesday's workshop session.
Currently, the city prohibits residents from having more than four dogs or four cats.
Unincorporated Pinellas County, Belleair Beach, Belleair Shore, Indian Shores, Seminole and Treasure Island do not limit the number of cats and dogs that can be kept in a home. Other cities south of Ulmerton either have specific restrictions or limit the number of pets through kennel regulations.
Nichols said this creates a hardship for families, particularly for those who take in relatives who have pets or who have relatives with pets who must move into an assisted living or other facility that does not allow pets.
"When you look at the family structure you have today, I hope if someone's sick, parents have to go into facilities, their children would be able to take their pets. So what if it puts them at five (dogs or cats). Does that really harm the city? No, it doesn't," Nichols said.
She said the city could eliminate the restrictions on pets and still keep all other safety, noise and nuisance rules governing dogs and cats.
"People would still have to pick up after their dogs. All other problems are covered in other ordinances. This would just allow our people to have greater freedom of choice in their animals," Nichols said.
Her proposal prompted a lengthy discussion, with the three female commissioners overriding the two male commissioners.
Commissioner Steve Kochick argued for keeping some kind of limit. He was particularly incensed by dog owners who do not pick up after their pets.
"Why do dog owners think their dogs can pee or crap anywhere they want just because they are an animal?" Kochick complained. "There is an assumption that my grass is their dog's bathroom."
Commissioner Terry Lister does not want to change the current rules.
"I love my wife, but this is just going to let her loose," he said. "How about eight? Just double the number. Don't make unlimited."
Nichols told the commission that Pinellas County Animal Control euthanizes most animals in its care.
"Last year they put down over 14,563 animals. They were able to adopt only 5,500," Nichols said.
"How sad. How very sad," Commissioner Nancy Oakley said. "That makes me want to go get another cat."
"I think it is a pretty neat idea. People should be able to have as many pets as they want," Mayor Pat Shontz said.
But some residents were not so enthralled.
"I don't want to live next door to somebody with a semi-kennel," resident Dick Lewis said. "I have a neighbor who has a dog that barks a lot. I can't do much about it. I want to keep peace with my neighbor. But if there were three or four more Yorkies, I couldn't stand it."
Another resident questioned how the city could prevent the "person who accumulates 30 cats and dogs and then can't take care of them."
In the end, the commission directed its attorney to draft a revised ordinance removing the restriction on the number of pets in residential areas. The commission will have to vote twice on the issue before it can go into effect. No date was set for those votes.