NEW PORT RICHEY — Faced with photos of a dog with a 2-inch ring of raw skin around its neck, county commissioners voted 4-1 Tuesday to ban animal tethering unless the owner is outside with the pet.
Officials said the ban would help prevent the injury and death of animals that have been tied up outside too long, sometimes with tight collars or chains, sometimes without food or water within reach.
Commissioner Jack Mariano, who said he sometimes tethers his dog on the porch, cast the dissenting vote.
"To tell me I can't put my dog out for 15 minutes or an hour, that's a huge overstep for people who take care of their dog that way," Mariano said. However, he recoiled at the photos that animal rights activists presented of an injured dog, calling it "hideous."
The measure also prohibits residents from having a pet riding loose in the back of a pickup truck on any public roads. Animals must be inside the vehicle, or in a cage, or secured by restraints to prevent them from falling or jumping from the vehicles. (Horses, cattle, sheep and other agricultural animals may still be transported in animal trailers.)
While the tethering ordinance rule passed, a measure that would have regulated pet sales at flea markets stalled for the third time, with Commissioner Pat Mulieri calling for an outright ban on such sales, and Mariano defending the business owners. The proposal would have placed licensing and permitting requirements on pet breeders.
Commissioners decided to advertise another hearing on the proposal and discuss it further after getting more input from stakeholders.
"We need to hear more than one side of the story," said Commissioner Henry Wilson.
"I think we're moving backward," Mulieri said in response to the proposed flea market regulations.
Responded Mariano: "Let these people make money how they want to make it," he said. "They'll find somewhere else to go. Everybody's heard of the black market. To just slam this thing through, I think, is a huge mistake."
The delay came after commissioners listened to pleas from animal lovers as well as Michele Overbeck, manager of the USA FleaMarket in Port Richey. She said two vendors regularly sell at her business, which provides air-conditioned spaces for pet dealers.
"This is not a bargain," she said. "We have rented spaces that cost as much as the mall."
She said the flea market draws 3,000 to 5,000 visitors each weekend, and sales generate a lot of taxes for the county. She invited the county's Animal Services to offer its animals for adoption at the flea market at no charge.
But animal rights advocates pushed for a ban, saying flea markets provide a haven for puppy mills and encourage impulse buys.
"A reputable breeder would never allow their animals to be sold at a flea market," said Marilyn Godsey.
Commissioners also approved a separate measure that would set the stage for dog tag fees to go up in order to pay for efforts to help the county meet its goal of saving 90 percent of the animals in the Land O'Lakes shelter. The annual fees, which are now $5 for sterilized dogs and $25 for non-sterilized dogs, would go up to $10 for sterilized dogs and $35 for non-sterilized dogs.
The extra fees would pay for more staff and allow the county to start a program that would trap, sterilize and release feral cats to control overpopuation. The new fees have to be voted on at a later meeting to become effective.