Laws for paws
City goes the extra mile to ensure pets and people coexist safely
BY ELLEN GILLETTE
Port St. Lucie has been described as business-friendly, even wallet-friendly. Did you know it’s also pet-friendly? In 2019 and 2020 the city was certified by Mars Petcare as one of its Better Cities for Pets because of amenities, shelter facilities, emergency help, disaster relief and other considerations.
“To many of our citizens, dogs and cats aren’t necessarily pets at all,” Mayor Gregory J. Oravec says. “They’re family. And at city hall, we feel the same way and are dedicated to helping our families, four-legged family members included, live better lives.”
With benefits, of course, come responsibilities. Knowing what’s available for your dog’s care is one side of the coin — the other is what’s required of you.
A happy dog peers over the side of a truck bed as it speeds down U.S. 1 — a fairly common sight. Unless it’s properly restrained, however, it’s also a code violation. The city’s website [www.cityofpsl.com] covers the basics along with an extensive FAQ page. With infraction fees ranging from $50 to $200, it pays to know.
“The most important thing to understand is that ordinances are geared toward responsible pet ownership,” said Bryan Lloyd, the city’s police animal control administrator. “Our most frequent violations are dogs running at large and barking complaints. These usually stem from owners leaving their animals outside without supervision. Responsibility starts with knowing where your pets are and being present when they’re outside to ensure they’re safe and not creating a nuisance.”
There are more than 14,000 dogs registered in Port St. Lucie, a number representing only about 14 percent of its total dog population. St. Lucie County is unusual in Florida, Lloyd says, as it has three separate animal control agencies. Pockets within Port St. Lucie are technically unincorporated, so make sure you know in which jurisdiction your home is located. For example, spayed or neutered pets qualify for lifetime licenses in the county and Port St. Lucie, but not Fort Pierce. Port St. Lucie also requires these animals be microchipped.
In general, dogs in Port St. Lucie should be kept on a leash, secured on your property or within a fenced area. A female dog in heat must be kept out of public places. If animal control picks up a free roaming dog, there’s a $25 fee with an additional $10 fee per night. If an owner doesn’t pick up the animal within five days, it’s taken to the Humane Society.
Specially trained animal control officers may come onto private property, demanding to inspect an animal. They may enter fenced areas to check on a rabid or vicious animal, an animal at large, an animal in need of medical help or to investigate an animal cruelty report. Refusal to allow an inspection constitutes a violation.
Noise restrictions are in place from 11 p.m. through 6 a.m., but continuous noise for 15 minutes or more at other hours is also restricted. And just in case you’re unsure what noises are covered, the city’s website paints a fairly complete picture: “bark, yelp, howl, screech, squawk, chirp, crow, or whistle.”
Although only cats and dogs must be licensed in Port St. Lucie, don’t plan on keeping bees or getting fresh eggs from a backyard coop — farm animals are prohibited within city limits. Oddly enough, special permits from the state allow exotic pets. So: Chickens, no. Cheetahs, maybe.
PLACES TO PLAY
Port St. Lucie boasts 62 pet waste stations and an extensive network of sidewalks that make walking your dog a better experience. It also has four leash-free parks where your dog can play Frisbee, run, or perhaps enjoy a dog fitness trail. Resident Margaret Flowers likes McChesney Park on SW Cashmere Boulevard for its three areas for different-sized dogs. The others are Lyngate, Winterlakes, and Woodland Trails. Flowers says her dog enjoys the Oxbow Trail also. Does your dog surf? The nearest dog-friendly beach is Walton Rocks in Jensen Beach.
Six city parks allow leashed dogs — C-24 Canal, Gulf Stream, Harborview, Midport, O.L. Peacock and Oak Hammock. Make sure you take plenty of water for your dog — some parks have dog-friendly water access, but not all. And of course, make sure that any waste is picked up and disposed of properly.
CHECK THE FINE PRINT
About 47,000 Port St. Lucie residents are renters. Some landlords prohibit or charge more for pets. Others prohibit certain breeds of dogs. There may also be restrictions on the number of animals a renter can have.
Homeowners may run into restrictions as well. While most homeowner insurance policies cover dog bites, many have prohibited breed lists. Some companies charge a higher premium with certain breeds, while others take things case-by-case.
According to the Insurance Information Institute and State Farm, dog bites and other dog-related injuries made up more than one-third of all homeowners liability claims in 2017. Florida is second in the nation for such claims, with payouts at almost $68 million in 2018.
Is your dog on the bad list? Exceptions may be made if it’s a service dog or has a Canine Good Citizen certificate from the American Kennel Club. A dog of any breed, if classified as aggressive or dangerous, requires special licensing.
WHEN TO CALL
Robert Frost wrote that “good fences make good neighbors” but sometimes, it’s what the fence restrains. Check guidelines for keeping dogs fenced or on tethers in order to provide for the safety of both animals and people. Good communication can usually handle pet issues with neighbors, but contact animal control in cases of abuse, neglect or danger.
When Michael Lynch was annoyed by constant barking in south Port St. Lucie, he looked over his fence and spotted a puppy. Confined in a cage so small it couldn’t turn around, it had no shade or water. Because the owner wasn’t home, Lynch called animal control. Soon the puppy was removed for its own safety.
Dogs will be dogs, but it is owners and the public who may be fined or injured. Dog bites and attacks can be traumatic, even fatal. Bite reports must be filed; the dog must be quarantined. A special license may be required for a dog with a history of unprovoked, aggressive behavior. But note the wording — teasing an animal is also against the law.
According to Maria Valencia, St. Lucie County’s animal safety coordinator, there’ve been no calls regarding organized dog fights since she’s been here, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
“Ordinarily you’d see a large amount of dogs, primarily pit bulls, tethered and sheltered on overgrown or abandoned property. The animals would also have injuries about the face, neck and legs.”
Call 911 for animal-related emergencies and 772. 871.5042 to file a lost or found animal report. Animal control doesn’t handle wildlife complaints and sightings, deceased wildlife in roadways or pest control problems on private property, but Lloyd says residents may call with questions so they can be connected with the proper agencies.
A strong partnership between the city and the Humane Society of St. Lucie County has helped the shelter reach a no-kill status.
Lloyd says, “We’ve increased our return to owner rate to over 70 percent.” Port St. Lucie also partners with Operation SOS to provide free spay and neuter services for pet owners residing within city limits.
Whether you fall in love with a pound puppy or purchase one with a pedigree, owning a dog represents what may be a 20-year commitment — at an annual cost of $1,000 to $4,000. On the plus side, dog owners can reap personal benefits. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “the bond between people and their pets may increase fitness, lower stress and bring happiness to their owners.”
If you have the time and resources, owning a dog can provide companionship, security and fun. Owning a dog in Port St. Lucie? Even better.