SEBRING — For years, downtown Sebring business owner and events promoter Lora Todd has searched for ways to bring people downtown.
Todd’s latest plan is to make downtown friendlier to dog owners.
Earlier this week, Todd, who is a Community Redevelopment Agency board member, convinced the panel to support looking into changing the city’s ordinance so people could walk their dogs in park, or possibly into creating a dog park. Although the effort is aimed at downtown parks, it would apply citywide.
The CRA will decide later how the ordinance could be amended and make a recommendation to the City Council.
At least one council member, John Griffin, said the CRA board would have a steep hill to climb to get his support in changing the ordinance, even though he loves dogs and understands the desire of some canine owners to take their pets into parks.
Griffin said he would have concerns about the possibilities of dog fights, dogs attacking children in parks and dogs leaving behind waste their owners don’t clean up. He said he would be particularly concerned about dogs running lose near areas where people swim, and the waste getting into the water. In South Florida, dogs are not allowed on beaches, he said.
People can walk their dogs in a lot of places, including along Lakeview Drive, he pointed out .
Sebring Mayor John Shoop said he would have to research the issue more before deciding whether the ordinance needs to be changed. He said he has seen people with dogs in the parks and didn’t believe it was a big issue.
“We have rules out there, but it’s not a Gestapo situation,” he said.
To address the dog waste problem, CRA board members also discussed the possibility of having receptacles in the parks and downtown area for dog waste. Todd said as a frequent visitor to downtown Tampa, she notices the city has such receptacles.
Todd began her push for the change after a friend posted on Facebook that while walking his dog in the Rotary Park area, a police officer told him the city ordinance doesn’t allow that.
Nearly 40 people posted responses, supporting being able to walk dogs in parks, she said.
Todd, who owns Dogtown USA, said people visit the downtown on weekends and don’t know dogs aren’t allowed in parks.
The exception is when the city council grants a variance from the ordinance for an event.
Meanwhile, when readers were asked on Highlands Today’s Facebook page whether dogs should be allowed in parks, the response was divided.
“Absolutely,” wrote Connie Creasman Baker, who added, “It should be changed. It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of.”
Doreen Firth-Pattison wrote she doesn’t find Sebring hospitable to dog owners.
“I have traveled a lot and Sebring is the worst for dogs and parks. I feel like I am committing a crime, which I am in this town, taking my Harley for a walk on his leash and picking up his poo.”
Several people said that they favor the idea, but only if the dog owners are responsible.
“As long as the dog, no matter what sized, is leashed and you clean up after it, I see no problem with having dogs in parks, though owners need to exhibit a little common sense if you know your dog is not good with other animals, children, loud noises, then don’t have it around these things.”
But, others questioned whether most dog owners will be responsible.
“No, it is a nice thought that people will clean up after their dogs, but in reality very few do.... so with that in mind and the parks are geared toward children, NO,” Kim Mullins said.
Similarly, Pennie Ann Wolf objected, saying “No, only because of irresponsible owners who let them off the leash and won’t pick up dooty... I prefer to walk in a park without having to worry about stepping in dog poo. Should open a dog park though; that would be nice.”