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Ditch dog-centered events?

A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel plays a witch at the 2009 Pet Costume Contest, hosted by The Doggie Door, which the Parks Commission says violates an ordinance.

A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel plays a witch at the 2009 Pet Costume Contest, hosted by The Doggie Door, which the Parks Commission says violates an ordinance.

Jenny Andreasson

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A Winter Park city board wants dog-centered events, such as the Pet Costume Contest and the Annual Spring Doggie Art Festival, moved off Park Avenue. The organizer of these events is fighting back, saying that it's time for the city to embrace its canine culture.

The Parks and Recreation Commission on Wednesday was scheduled to discuss sending a letter to the City Commission asking it to prohibit special events permits being issued for "animal-centered events" on Park Avenue or a street near Central Park.

The Parks and Recreation Board can take no action on the ordinance, city spokeswoman Clarissa Howard said. The board only makes recommendations to the City Commission, which can choose to consider the change, or decide not to do anything.

The city's existing ordinance bans animals from being in Central Park. It also bans them from "any street, right of way, or sidewalk adjacent to Central Park that is closed to vehicular traffic during any special event." The Parks and Recreation Commission said this ordinance is being violated because of events such as the Costume Contest and Art Festival, both organized by The Doggie Door.

"The Parks Board is upset with the parks director and said, 'you're not following your own ordinance; you're carving out exceptions for one business owner,'" Parks and Recreation Commissioner Bonnie Jackson said.

Brian Wettstein, co-owner of The Doggie Door, said he feels his business is being unfairly targeted for something it does twice a year. He said the ordinance was designed for the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival and has never kept him from getting permits for his events, which raise money for charities.

"I've been doing this event for 11 years in the downtown," Wettstein said, "and all of the sudden there's selective enforcement of the ban ordinance that the city can't enforce because dog culture in Winter Park makes every day a dog-centered event."

Central Park is currently the only park that doesn't allow dogs, and Jackson said it's because there are field trips and picnics held there.

Although the Doggie Door events are not held in Central Park, some dogs and their owners wander into Central Park or cross the park to and from the event. Many people coming to the events from out of town don't even know the park is closed to dogs, Jackson said.

"You can't invite hundreds of dogs down to Park [Avenue] for a dog event and not expect people to go into Central Park," Jackson said.

Wettstein said dogs do wander near and in Central Park but they are always cleaned up after. He also said his business can apply for a waiver from the pet ban for an event, just as some events secure waivers to allow alcohol in the park.

"The good news is it's just a recommendation from the Board and the City Commission has a final say on it. There are lots of people pouring in their e-mails not supporting this ban," he said.

The Parks Commission also wants to change the ordinance to make an exception for dogs in and at parades, and dogs at boat launches boarding boats, such as Dinky Dock.