From the dais to the audience, people attending Gulfport’s City Council meeting on February 7 expressed frustration and weighed legal options to exhort the Pinellas County animal control authority into invoking the “dangerous dog” label to describe two local animals that some residents say have been threatening them and their pets for months.
“I know that there’s a lot of high emotions tonight about a certain issue in the Marina District, but animals like children are products of their upbringing,” said Councilmember Christine Brown as she prepared to give the meeting’s invocation, which was the reading of a 2015 city resolution that declared February as “celebrate animals month.” She wanted to help people remember “how great our animals really are, or most of them.”
During public comment, residents Terri Sherony and Tiffany Taylor recounted how pets have been injured and killed by two 2-year-old dogs owned by Juan P. Quevedo, 2609 Upton Street S., Gulfport. Zena and Tank are also known as the “Upton Street dogs” on a public social media website named Gulfport, FL Community Crime Watch.
“Since December 2015, Zena and Tank have been plaguing our city,” said Sherony. “They are old enough to jump [fences] so no one in my neighborhood or in Gulfport is safe in their own back yard. It took me seven months to find witnesses who would come forward to sign the affidavits needed for [Pinellas County Animal Services] to investigate and declare these dogs as dangerous. This owner has been issued eight citations: three from Gulfport and five from the county. We have a great police department, but we need better communication with Animal Services. More needs to be done.”
According to Taylor’s social media posts, on January 9, she and her daughter returned to their home to find Zena and Tank inside their backyard because the animals had jumped the 6-foot privacy fence. The family’s pet cat was hiding in the yard in critical condition from having been attacked and mauled by the two dogs. After successful surgery to treat her injuries, Lily developed a blood clot and died.
“Our cat Lily was killed by these dogs,” said Taylor.
In an effort to achieve peace, residents have been working with the local police who have referred them to officials in the county’s Animal Services department, as they are the legal authority that has been charged with providing animal control enforcement in Gulfport since the 1970s.
“The [legal] process is broken from the time of that first attack,” said Taylor. “This has been 14 months, 13 incidences and three domestic pet deaths. That’s not acceptable.”
In an email to Sherony dated February 1, 2017 with a subject line of “Upton Street Dogs,” Lt. Gary Brown, a county-level animal enforcement officer, said, “I finished putting the dangerous dog case together and it has been forwarded to Enforcement Manager Major James McGill for review and his approval. After that, he will forward the case to the director of animal services for final review and his final decision. I expect a final decision will be complete very soon.”
The same email from Officer Brown states, Quevedo “is scheduled in court for arraignment on February 17 for all citations issued by animal services.”
The process is “not keeping our community safe,” said Taylor. Quevedo “lives behind me. I don’t allow my daughter to play in the backyard anymore because I’m afraid that they’re going to jump the fence and attack her.”
On the day Lily died, said Taylor, “We brought her body home, I had to hold my daughter. She was crying, rubbing [Lily] saying, ‘Mommy, maybe if I love her hard enough God will give her back to me.’ I don’t want any other parents in Gulfport to have to go through that,” said Taylor. “I’m looking forward to see what we can do as a community to address this situation.”
Taking the lead, Mayor Sam Henderson said, “I would like us to communicate with the county and accelerate the process.”
The council then agreed to take two actions. First, a county representative will be invited to visit and talk to the council at a future meeting to explain how the dangerous dog process works. Second, the city’s police chief, attorney and manager will be working together to determine the best method for the council to contact county authorities about this specific case.
Mooring Field Approval Moves Forward
A resolution was approved to move forward with the construction of a 17.5-acre sailboat-mooring field that will add 25 buoys accommodating vessels up to 60 feet in length. Of the 25 slips, 22 will be reserved for transient use. Estimates predict that each transient buoy will conservatively generate 62 boat visitors annually.
The field will be located in the waters that face Williams Pier, the Casino and beach areas all located about three quarters of a mile from the municipal marina where check-in processing will take place and services like gas and showers will be available. A new pump-out vessel will service sailboats while they are moored to buoys in the field.
According to city documentation, the new field will “address the issue of unregulated anchoring in Boca Ciega Bay, which is associated with damage to sea grass colonies from dragging anchors, degradation of water quality due to improper trash and sewage disposal, and increased incidence of derelict vessels.”
The total estimated project budget for the first year is $350,000. Funding sources are: $100,000 in BP monies from Pinellas County; from $35,000 to $100,000 in BP funds from the city of Gulfport; $40,000 in grant monies from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Clean Vessel Act program administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and, the balance of the of the project monies are expected to come from a grant from the Florida Boating Improvement Program, which the city is applying for between February 1 and March 31.
“We’ll know the result of the application by July 2017,” said City Manager Jim O’Reilly.
“The project will serve as an economic catalyst for revitalization in Gulfport” because “the revenue generated by new recreational boat trips will act as an important source of revenue,” according to city documentation on the project.
Street Signs Slated for Removal
In June 2016, in response to a petition from residents, the council approved regulations that would prohibit parking between 7 and 9 a.m. on 59th Street S. between Gulfport Boulevard S. and 27th Avenue S. to address a situation where contractor-related vehicles were accustomed to waiting on the public streets to gain access to Pasadena Yacht and Country Club, a private residential area with restricted hours of entry for commercial vehicles.
According to city documentation, residents whose properties are adjacent to public roads located primarily north of 25th Avenue S. have complained about parking inconveniences imposed as a result of the new rules.
Consequently, and based on a memo outlining four options by Chief of Police Rob Vincent, the council passed a resolution to remove all parking signs in this area.