VERO BEACH - At the urging of Police Chief David Currey, the Vero Beach City Council has amended its ordinances relating to dogs in three ways.
The changes clarify where leashed dogs may be walked on the beach. It also adds language requiring people to pick up after their dogs, and holding people liable when their dog bites.
Chief Currey said that dogs would remain prohibited on the city’s three guarded beaches, but would be allowed in certain “pockets” of private property.
“Our public beaches, South Beach, Humiston, and Jaycee are where we want our visitors and residents to go to enjoy the surf and sand,” Chief Currey said. “They’re guarded, the lifeguards are there, it’s safe, and that’s where we do not want to allow animals.”
But in the interests of promoting and maintaining a dog-friendly community, the police department recommended allowing dogs in certain areas.
Chief Currey said the change was motivated in part by people receiving different answers on the question of dogs on the beach depending on who they ask. The chief said the ordinance would make things more clear, and would help enforcement by specifying what beaches were off limits to dogs.
“For example, it would allow somebody staying at Costa d’Este with their dog, which is private property where dogs are allowed, to walk down to Mulligan’s to get a drink or food,” Chief Currey said. “That is a pocket (at Sexton Plaza) where (walking their dog) will be allowed.”
Vice-Mayor Laura Moss, who ultimately supported the proposal, expressed concern about dog waste.
“Are we encouraging more pet waste, which is being washed into the ocean? Are they going to look at us years from now and say why did they do that?” Vice-Mayor Moss asked. “We’re talking about spending $50 million to move the wastewater treatment plant from the lagoon, on the one hand, and on the other hand I don’t know what we’re encouraging with dogs on the beach.”
In response, Chief Currey pointed to another new part of the ordinance, requiring people to clean up after their dogs.
“I think we’re discouraging it,” Chief Currey said, referring to pet waste being left behind. “We’re adding that to the ordinance, and we’ve never had it. We’re making it clear that you need to clean up after yourself.”
The amendment requires people responsible for any dog or cat to remove feces from public or private property to ensure sanitary conditions are maintained throughout the city.
The chief said the VBPD previously didn’t have the ability to fine for pet waste being left. Now they will have the ability to fine.
Other council members worried about who would enforce the requirement that dog waste be picked up. Council member Rey Neville expressed concern with having dogs walked where young toddlers might be playing.
Mayor Tony Young said that people who didn’t want to be near dogs should go to one of the three public, guarded beaches.
The third major change in the ordinance concerns unprovoked dog attacks, at the beach or elsewhere.
“There have been several incidents of unprovoked dog attacks on both public and private property,” VBPD Captain Matthew Monaco wrote in a memo to City Manager Monte Falls explaining the changes. “In an effort to curb this activity and provide a mechanism for enforcement the police department recommends creating section 14-3 that prohibits unprovoked attacks on both public and private property.”
The ordinance adds the new Section 14-3 in Article II of Chapter 14 of city code: “No owner shall allow a dog, when unprovoked, to bite, attack, endanger, or inflict injury to a human, domestic animal, or livestock, while such unprovoked dog is on public or private property, or chase or approach an individual upon the streets, sidewalks, or any public grounds in a menacing fashion or apparent attitude of attack.”
The ordinance adds that “The owner of any dog that bites any person while such person is on or in a public place, or lawfully on or in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, is liable for damages suffered by persons bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owners' knowledge of such viciousness.”
The ordinance passed by a vote of 4-1, with Councilmember Neville voting against.