Though there are signs on Gulfport Beach pertaining to this issue, recent chatter on Gulfport social media sites has revealed some confusion about dogs on the beach. Can you take your pet out for a romp in the water or a stroll on the sand? The answer, according to Gulfport City Manager Jim O’Reilly, is “no.” The only dogs allowed on the beaches or in the public buildings of Gulfport are those that are determined to be service animals, said O’Reilly.
As defined by Florida State Statute 413.08, the designation of “service animal” applies to dogs that are “trained to perform tasks for an individual with a disability” such as a “person who is visually impaired or blind, deaf or hard of hearing” or who needs assistance with mobility, seizures or retrieving objects.
The statute states, “A service animal is not a pet,” he said. “That’s a big delineation.” Further, the statute does not include “comfort animals.”
The city’s code of ordinances follows the state statute and provides in chapter 5, section 5-28 for exceptions that involve “the use or training of a guide dog or service dog to assist a person that is physically disabled.”
Police officers “have discretion to issue a warning” or to have the animal leave the premises, he said.
Service dogs do not need to wear or display any form of identification.
The way law enforcement or city officials determine if a dog is a service animal is through conversation.
“By statute, the only thing we can ask is, ‘What tasks does the animal provide to you?’ And not, ‘Why do you have a service animal?’,” said O’Reilly.
For designated beach areas, “it is a public accommodation,” he said. The statute “also sets forth that the person with the disability, or an assistant, still has the responsibility to clean up after the animal.”
The same state statute and city ordinance applies to Gulfport’s public buildings where animals would normally be prohibited like the library, City Hall, Senior Center and the Casino.
“The dog has to be under some kind of mechanism of control,” said O’Reilly, like a leash, harness, tethers or voice commands.
Despite Gulfport’s reputation as an animal-loving town, “Not everyone likes dogs,” said O’Reilly. “And, we have a responsibility to everyone to be inclusive.”