People and animals alike behaved themselves during Saturday's Bark Island after some residents complained days earlier of pet owners not picking up after their dogs and a lack of supervision at Pine Island.
Recreation Coordinator Harry Johnson said he had "extra eyes on the beach" Saturday to watch over proceedings. Normally there is one staffer and the parks maintenance person. Last Saturday, there were three extra volunteers.
Johnson said he posted extra signage telling people to keep dogs away from the concession area.
In all, there were 55 cars, down from the average 64 in the first two Bark Island days.
"I think from the people reading articles in the paper, they are a little more conscientious that they're being looked at and are picking up after their dog," Johnson said.
Held every other Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. at Pine Island, the event is popular with many dog owners and it has been attracting more and more pets since it started up after Labor Day.
Bark Island continues through March.
Joanne Schoch, executive director of the Humane Society of the Nature Coast Inc., said she doesn't think the county should penalize the 95 percent of pet owners who follow the rules during Bark Island because of the few that are causing problems.
Schoch said she has visited Bark Island in the past and saw healthy socializing among pet owners and dogs. As for smells and unsanitary conditions, Schoch said she once found a dirty diaper in the sand. So it is not just pet owners who must be responsible, she said.
"I have found the animal people there to be very conscientious about keeping it clean and they watch out for those who don't," she said. "They love their beach."
Schoch said she will attend the next Bark Island and visit the following day to determine the extent of the problem.
"Your pet families who pay taxes should be able to use county facilities as well," she said. "If there's a problem, let's look at the problem and try to resolve it. But let's not deny access."
County commissioners this month directed staff to do a better job of monitoring conditions during Bark Island and making sure pet owners picked up after Fido.
They also asked staff to consider tweaking the $7-per-car admission fee, and perhaps charge extra for people with multiple dogs.
Johnson said he is meeting with Land Services Director Ron Pianta next week about the fee.
To make it easier for pet owners, Johnson said staff will consider a system for people to have their animal's vaccination record on file with the county so they don't have to take their records with them every time they come to Bark Island.
Willy Kochounian, owner of Willy's Tropical Breeze concession stand at Pine Island, said he was pleased with Saturday's crowd.
"This weekend was good," he said. "They had the supervision."
Kochounian's only concern is if the event expands and there are 200-250 dogs around.
"The beach is too small," he said. "How do you control it?