Hard Candy – James Madison Hated Dogs?

Either you hate the Constitution or you hate dogs.

At the end of the day, that’s what it boils down to in Gulfport. Two times in the past couple of months the city has proved unable to protect pets or even investigate claims of animal neglect, hoarding, or abuse.
This summer, a local boater forced his dog to use his liveaboard boat as a toilet. The underweight dog had sores, infections, and oozing things on him, all of which I saw locals tried to intervene and help the dog. What happened? Not a damn thing. The SPCA essentially ignored our Chief of Police’s official request to investigate, and the photos the investigator asked the paper to send didn’t prove neglect, apparently. I mean, Calypso gets a sandspur and I go all “ER” on her, but apparently you can just let your dog rot where he stands and that’s OK, too.
Then, last month, Pinellas County Animal Services took video of a woman operating a “rescue” operation in an 852-square-foot Gulfport home (read my article “In Limbo” online and look for a link to this video). The video – which her attorney didn’t want shown to the Special Master at her code enforcement hearing, and when you see it you’ll know why –  shows dogs stacked in cages, some two to a cage, and of dog poop all over her floors. The code enforcement officer testified that he could smell urine and dog feces as he approached the home.
What did Animal Services do? They dropped the charges. The Special Master told the rescue president that if she could get a conditional use permit to operate a business from her home, she could continue sharing her home with 25 dogs.
I wish I could say I felt bad, writing this column, as I know this woman and know she’s done some fine things for our community, but what I saw on that video changed my opinion forever. I always thought turning a dog over to a rescue offered a more humane option, but I would euthanize my dog before I would turn her over to an operation like that. (Disclaimer: I don’t believe all rescues are like this one, but I didn’t think this one was like that, either, until I saw this video.) Perhaps this rescue started with good intentions, but I don’t care. This situation cannot be allowed to continue, and if the county or the SPCA or the state can’t stop it, Gulfport must.
But it won’t. It won’t because it can’t.
Hard to believe, I know, because I always thought Gulfport bordered on almost-worship status when it came to our furry friends. Dogs can go almost anywhere, we have the Get Rescued festival, and on the rare occasion we see a baby stroller containing a baby rather than a puppy, we all do a double take.
Gulfport’s hands are tied. Really, I blame James Madison, our fourth president and the man who wrote the Bill of Rights.The fourth amendment in the Bill of Rights protects US citizens from unreasonable search and seizure. To some folks around town, that also means that they’re protected from Code Enforcement, Pinellas County Animal Services, and any other agency that wants to make sure they’re not breaking the law.
To some extent, they’re right. I don’t believe any government agency should have the right unreasonably enter and search your home. As a chronic offender of delicate political psyches, I don’t want the city to have absolute authority to break down my door when I write an indelicate column.
But if someone comes to investigate claims that I abuse Calypso, I welcome their entrance into my home, and anyone else I know who treats their pets well doesn’t need to hide behind the Fourth Amendment, either. For those who have something to hide, though, the city has no rights unless they have  sworn testimony from someone inside the home. Without a warrant, police can only demand entrance into your home if “exigent circumstances” exist. Exigent circumstances exist if evidence faces destruction, if a suspect would escape, or people face imminent danger.
People, not dogs. Not cats, not sugar gliders, not rabbits. The Constitution effectively screws them, because it was written when people used dogs for work, hunted rabbits, and kept cats in the barn to kill rats. They didn’t have animal hoarders or dogfighting. They barely had pets.
I love our country and I support our constitution, but I love my dog, too. More than anything, I love my dog. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to protect her and keep her safe and happy.
So where does it leave us? I don’t know. So instead I ask our city officials and elected leaders, please, find a way to get Gulfport some power to do something about animal abuse. I know you don’t have an answer right now. I know you have other stuff to do. But no other agency cares enough, and that leaves you guys.
Because it’s pretty clear that if you don’t do something, no one else will.

Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.