Local News

New ordinance: Don’t feed feral cats

— County commissioners passed an animal control ordinance Tuesday but again could not find a way to help a man who wants to drive his golf cart on Avon Park Lake streets.

The animal control ordinance was devised by a committee of veterinarians and Humane Society President Judy Spiegel.

There are five new laws:

Dogs, cats and ferrets four months or older must be vaccinated by a licensed veterinarian and revaccinated every 12 months. Animals can be exempted if a vet certifies the animal’s life could be endangered because of age, infirmity or disability. Dogs, cats and ferrets must be registered. Animals that are not microchipped must wear a collar and tag.

People are not allowed to strike or interfere with an animal control officer, provide false information, take an animal control trap or damage animal control property.

People can feed feral cats on their own property but they are not allowed to feed on public or private property without the permission of the owner, filed in writing at Highlands County Animal Control.

People are required to humanely treat pets and provide “sufficient quantities of good, wholesome food, water and exercise on a daily basis.”

Next, the county must do something about overpopulation, Spiegel insisted. On Saturday, she turned away the owners of 10 cats and three dogs.

“What do you want me to do with them?” she was asked. She sent them to the animal control shelter, where euthanasia is a likely outcome.

“We need to reconvene another committee,” Spiegel said. “We have got do something with overbreeding.”

“I invite any of you to spend a day at animal control or the humane society and see what we to put up with,” Spiegel said. “You would be astounded.”

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Peggy Bennett asked again, and Highlands County commissioners wanted to help her son drive his golf cart in Avon Parks Lakes, but County Attorney Ross Macbeth insisted that the county cannot grant a special exception to state laws.

Brandon Bennett, who has medical issues, is 42 inches tall and weighs 90 pounds. Unable to walk far, he drove a golf cart to get to a pier, where he fished, until a deputy pointed out that golf carts are not allowed on public streets.

Macbeth said he and County Engineer Ramon Gavarrete met with the association president. The dock and some of the streets are currently under water. Macbeth’s suggestion is to start a special benefit district to tag the golf cart and add lights and other options so it would be street legal.

Certain streets could also be declared golf-cart safe, but Commissioner Don Elwell liked that solution least.

If roads are open to Brandon’s golf cart, they’re open to all residents, Macbeth said. “It’s not an ADA statute, it’s an anybody statute.”

Bennett insisted that the federal Adults with Disabilities laws allow the commissioners to grant an exception, which state law allows by making a community golf cart friendly.

Macbeth suggested that Brandon switch to a mobility scooter, but Bennett said it is not a safe device because it’s small and not as easily seen as a golf cart.

Current law allows scooters on roadway shoulders, but Bennett said that wouldn’t work because Brandon would be riding through yards.

“He can’t get past the mailboxes and the driveways,” Chairman Greg Harris agreed. “I don’t think he can get down those streets.”

After a county commission meeting two weeks ago, Bennett said she talked to the federal Department of Justice, which she said advised her to file a complaint against the county.

“We don’t want to,” Bennett said.

Two weeks ago, Gavarrete and Sheriff Susan Benton opposed Brandon’s request, saying it would be unsafe to drive a golf cart on some Avon Parks Lakes roads. The speed limit is 25, but cars are going faster.

“To bring the speeds down,” Gavarrete said, “we could try ‘traffic calming.’ We have to do something physical to the road.” That could include speed tables, but they will also slow the response of emergency vehicles.

“I think we all want to do something. I say ride,” Harris said. “But I have no legal authority to do that.”

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County Veteran Service Officer Denise Williams, Chairman of the Florida Medal of Honor Memorial Harry Oakley and Construction Superintendent Don Laycock requested to use 7,200 square feet of vacant land behind the Veteran Services office for a Florida Medal of Honor Memorial.

“Nothing will exist in the United States like this,” Oakley said.

Facilities Manager David Flowers said he supports the projects but had detail and logistical issues with the relocation of a county generator, the absence of a restroom, who would mow the grass and clean the outdoor memorials, and whether all that concrete would require a water management permit and a retention pond.

Also, the proposed area has little parking, and the health department overflow “is a hike for some of our guys,” Flowers said.

Commissioners wanted a master plan study of the area first, and they were concerned about giving away too much space to a project that seemed to need about half that much.

“But let’s don’t kill the project, let’s find a way to make it happen,” Harris said.