PINELLAS PARK — For a few years, Joe Shelley was a near-constant presence at City Council meetings, where he could be counted on to argue against liberal city ordinances concerning horses and horse owners.
A former Marine known by friends and foes for his tenacity, Mr. Shelley pounded equestrian issues particularly hard through 2007, the peak of what locals call the "manure wars." He took hundreds of photos of horse dung on sidewalks, on the riding trails of Helen Howarth Park and the aftermath of horse shows there.
He presented the photos — many of them enlarged — to the council as evidence of a multifaceted problem. Mr. Shelley believed an ordinance allowing up to eight horses an acre was too lax, benefiting neither horses nor the public. He also maintained that riders should be required to clean up the animal's droppings, as are dog owners.
Before the issue died down, Mr. Shelley had forced the council to take up matters it had not previously considered, including the definition of "acreage" when land is shared by horses and structures such as a house; the merits of forcing horses to wear diapers; and even the relative consistency of horse leavings versus those of a dog.
Mr. Shelley, a veteran of three wars who will be remembered for the one he waged against horse manure, died May 1 as the result of a stroke. He was 84.
"That was like his career for about a year," Emily Shelley said of her father-in-law's campaign with the city.
Even so, he made few enemies.
"It was kind of a friendly banter with him," said city spokesman Tim Caddell. "He could stir stuff up on occasion, but (council members) were never really aggravated with him."
When asked how he was doing, Mr. Shelley replied with a chipper "Warm and walkin'. " His children recall a man who made them chocolate pancakes and colored the mashed potatoes green, taught them to work hard and put all five of them through college.
Mr. Shelley was born in St. Louis and enlisted in the Marines after high school. He was headed to Japan when World War II ended. When war broke out in Korea, he agreed to re-enlist — on the condition that he could bring along his dog, a terrier mutt named Damnit.
Mr. Shelley and Damnit were sent to Pusan (now named Busan), a critical seaport, where they slept side-by-side through an arctic cold winter.
He married Betty in 1953. The family moved to California, Hawaii, Florida and North Carolina, adding at least a baby at each stop. To keep up morale, the gunnery sergeant and aviation mechanic devised a tabletop shuffleboard game out of aircraft parts and brewed beer even though he did not drink, his family said.
Mr. Shelley finished his military career in Vietnam, where his air base in Chu Lai was subjected to frequent rocket attacks. He retired in 1968. He moved his family into a custom-built home in Pinellas Park, then worked for years as a pipe fitter with the Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Union Local 111.
He retired and worked on projects in the garage. In 2004, a next-door neighbor asked the city's permission to build a 15-horse stable. Mr. Shelley objected, resulting in a monthslong study of the appropriate number of horses per acre. A Times story called the final formula complicated, involving "net acres" that varied according to zoning.
The neighbor was granted 10 horses, but returned later to ask for more. Tensions escalated. At some point, Mr. Shelley began photographing horse droppings that were never picked up.
The issue, Mr. Shelley maintained, was never about horses. He liked horses, his family said, and even boarded one on his property as a favor to a family friend.
"His real thrust on that was, if you are going to be a responsible owner, do it responsibly," said Tim Shelley, one of Mr. Shelley's sons. "Take care of the animals, take care of the environment, take care of the people who have to be in the park and walk around in all of this stuff."
Though he was unable to alter any city ordinance regarding horses, he did promote awareness on the subject, and the sidewalks seem a lot cleaner, his family said.
Mr. Shelley's health had declined in recent years, and he was unable to attend council meetings.
He was reunited with officials in November, when the city celebrated the 236th anniversary of the Marine Corps. The council marked the occasion by presenting a proclamation for the Corps to Mr. Shelley, their longtime friendly adversary.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.