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PAWS program enhances St. Pete’s pet-friendliness

Mark Parker



A dog sits by his owner with a cup of water at Ferg's Sports Bar and Grill, one of many establishments that participate in the Mayor's Pet-Friendly Business program. Photo by Mark Parker.

The reigning “most dog-friendly city in America” is not resting on its laurels.

St. Petersburg earned the designation from SmartAsset in August 2022. Researchers with the financial information platform analyzed nationwide dog-friendliness and livability data from the 97 largest cities.

The study identified 134 dog-friendly restaurants, 18 dog shops and found that 84.5 of every 10,000 St. Petersburg establishments were vet offices or pet stores.

With the pandemic ending, city officials are increasing awareness of the mutual benefits provided by St. Pete’s PAWS program. The initiative’s goal is expanding the city’s “paw print” through “projects and education that promote happy, healthy pets and pet families” at home and in city businesses and parks.

Susan Ajoc oversees the program as the city’s community services director, and her passion for PAWS is unmistakable. She explained how pets – particularly dogs – could promote mental wellness and increase business.

“There’s a pretty big economic benefit,” Ajoc said. “If you are a pet owner, you work full time and you have an opportunity to bring your four-legged pup with you, you’re more likely to hang out a little longer. That’s more money spent there.”

She recalled asking Mark Ferguson, owner of Ferg’s Sports Bar and Grill, if there was a change in clientele after he installed a dog park at the St. Pete staple. He noticed more couples, and relayed that dog concierge services now included Ferg’s on their list of stops.

Ferguson also created a menu featuring freshly made dog delicacies.

Another Ferg’s regular.

Ferg’s is one of 23 companies participating in the Mayor’s Pet-Friendly Business program. Owners receive official website and map recognition, window decals, a shareable social media graphic and informational resources.

Ajoc noted many business owners remain unaware of or choose not to participate in the city-sponsored initiative, but program leaders still recognize many on the PAWS website. The “Doggie Dining” section features 48 establishments.

The online interactive map also highlights the Leisure Services Department’s six official dog parks; 79 pet service organizations; 16 hotels, resorts and apartment complexes; and 14 fire stations that provide oxygen for pets.

Businesses that serve food must obtain a Dog-Dining permit through the Planning and Economic Development Department. In addition, pet owners must keep dogs on a leash in public spaces not considered dog parks, excluding city council-designated special events.

Ajoc also stressed the importance of picking up and properly disposing of dog waste in marked boxes along sidewalks. State statute allows dogs in outside portions of restaurants if the businesses meet city criteria.

While interest in the program has increased, Ajoc said the pandemic created staffing and other challenges. However, she has made new additions to the PAWS team and introduced them to the community March 20 at the first City Hall on Tour event.

“I’ve already had them start looking at that map,” Ajoc said. “We want to make sure that more current information is up there. And then identifying businesses as we walk by – especially downtown – and if they say ‘pet-friendly,’ we go in, and approach them to see whether or not they’ve heard about it (PAWS).”

From left: Brittany Jones, administrative assistant; Jamal Baskin, neighborhood coordinator; and Susan Ajoc, community services director, represent the PAWS team at a City Hall on Tour event.

The program began in 2018 with former Mayor Rick Kriseman’s proclamation designating St. Pete as a pet-friendly city. It became the nation’s first to earn certification through Mars Petcare’s Better Cities for Pets initiative.

Ajoc said the notoriety resulting from the city’s pet welcomeness helps attract and retain residents. She also wants to ensure the pet-adverse feel comfortable and “that they don’t feel threatened and like we’re trying to take up the space.”

She added that when the program began, some people thought, “we’re going to have dogs running around everywhere. That’s never been the focus of this group.”

However, real estate, insurance and chiropractic offices are now dog-friendly, and Ajoc said that underscores the need for precautionary measures that help everyone feel comfortable. Program officials recently opened a survey to help inform decisions and meet needs moving forward.

It launched at a February Saturday Morning Shoppe event sponsored by the City of St. Petersburg, PAWS and SPCA Tampa Bay – one of several nonprofit partners.

Over 130 people participated.

“I’ve seen a number of pet-friendly events,” Ajoc said. “But I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many dogs. They were even wearing matching outfits.”

A stroller of dogs at the Saturday Morning Shoppe’s Pets Day Out event. Photo: City of St. Petersburg.

Skyway Marina District and Saturday Morning Shoppe officials are hosting another dog-focused event April 8.

The survey remains online, and Ajoc expressed her desire to create a resource center, potentially in one of the city’s social services hubs. She said addressing pet owners’ financial needs could be one aspect.

Ajoc also noted Mayor Ken Welch is a new dog owner, and he and her team want to increase pet-related safety. PAWS will launch a leash awareness campaign later this year.

“St. Petersburg is a pet-friendly community in a lot of different ways,” Ajoc said. “It’s not just access – people truly care about other living beings.”

For more information on the PAWS program, visit the website here.

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    April 1, 2023at2:46 pm

    We need more dogs and less people.

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    April 2, 2023at8:49 am

    How about a hot sidewalk awareness program?

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    April 4, 2023at6:11 am

    This is great! I love me some dogs having had 8 of them but I also love cats too and I usually have them at the same time–one big family. How does St. Pete rank for kitties, I wonder?

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