I get a lot of questions about dogs. In particular, folks want to know what the city can do when it comes to stray dogs or those that are otherwise on the loose in public. Since the answer can be kind of complicated, I thought it would be best to write it up and publish it as a kind of reference.
First, it is always illegal to allow any dog to be off leash on any public property or on the property of another person without permission. This is a violation of the Gulfport City Code. Any time a Gulfport officer responds to a call about a loose dog, he or she will attempt to identify an owner who can be held accountable. This can be easy if the dog is properly tagged, and if the officer can catch the dog. We have some basic training and equipment for this purpose, but we are not professional animal trappers. However, if we can’t round up the dog in a reasonable time, we’ll have to move on to more important matters. Also, unless there is evidence that the dog is being aggressive towards humans, we won’t use weapons to stop the dog. Catching strays is something we try to do when we can, but it’s simply not our mission.
Pinellas County government has an animal services unit, but they will not pursue non-violent strays either. They will respond and collect any stray dogs that have been caught and restrained, but the bottom line is that there is no “dog-catcher” in Pinellas County or the City of Gulfport.
When we can identify the owner of a loose dog, officers will check for prior violations and can issue citations for violations when appropriate. If the report involves an attack of some kind against a person or another domestic animal, the officer will document the incident appropriately. When evidence accumulates to prove that a dog has repeatedly been violent, the dog may be declared dangerous under Florida law. Once such a declaration has been imposed, the owner may face criminal charges for future violations, and the dog may be seized and euthanized.
In the past year, Gulfport officers have responded to 477 calls concerning issues with animals.