ST. PETE BEACH — "Dog friendly" may soon become a major bragging point for this beach city as it considers establishing a dog beach on Pass-a-Grille.
Two weeks ago, 40 passionate, dog-loving residents lobbied the City Commission to once again allow dogs on a city beach.
A ban instituted a year ago resulted in intense objections from residents.
Currently, the city has two fenced dog parks where pets can run free: one at Vina Del Mar Park on the southern end of the island and the other at McKenney Park on Blind Pass Road.
Last year, the city had no rules barring dogs from a sand beach area on the Intracoastal Waterway in Pass-a-Grille.
Then, some Pass-a-Grille residents complained the beach was attracting too many dog owners from outside the city. Officials, in reaction, banned dogs from the beach.
Residents who enjoyed letting their dogs run on the small beach subsequently organized and began lobbying city officials.
A series of meetings with city officials resulted in the compromise ordinance scheduled for a final vote Tuesday.
Several equally passionate residents strongly but unsuccessfully protested the move.
The strongest dissent to the proposed dog beach came from nearby resident David Kramer.
He said in the past dogs "ran amok" in his neighborhood. He blamed several health conditions on the "byproducts" the dogs left behind and urged the commission not to allow dogs to return to the beach near his home.
Calling the situation a "tribal war," he said he has been personally threatened when he complained to dog owners.
The commission sympathized with Kramer but unanimously voted to tentatively approve the dog park.
"I live directly across from the dog beach, and I have no problem with it. In fact, I am honored that this beach is named after my dog, 'Dog,'" resident Jay Anderson said, drawing laughter from both the commission and the audience.
Danielle Micklitsch, a Vina Del Mar resident urged by City Commissioner Melinda Pletcher to organize the push for the dog beach, pledged that she and other dog owners, as well as nearby residents, would police the designated area.
A representative for the Island's End Resort, on the southeastern point of Pass-a-Grille, got assurance from the city that the area would have signs informing dog owners that they would be liable for any rule-breaking or misbehavior by their dogs while using the park.
If the new dog park in Pass-a-Grille is approved, it may be followed by yet another dog-friendly area at Upham Beach, a move urged by resident John Michaels.
For now, the new ordinance, one vote away from being enacted, would allow dogs in just one designated area: a sand beach between First and Third avenues N on Pass-a-Grille.
Restrictions include banning dogs running free as they had in the past and requiring dogs to be on leashes no more than 8 feet long.
Dogs will not be allowed on dunes or other protected areas, and owners cannot bring rawhide or consumable dog toys or food. Puppies younger than 4 months old or dogs in heat will not be allowed.
The new rules also call for dog owners to be legally responsible for their dog's behavior and for any injuries they cause. Dogs must be licensed and have current immunizations.
Dog owners must clean up after their animals, but the city plans to provide plastic bags and receptacles.
All other sand beaches throughout the city will continue to ban dogs.
Failure to abide by the new rules will result in being removed from the dog beach and loss of future dog beach privileges.