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Living the good dog’s life on Sanibel

By Staff | Jun 11, 2009

No bones about it, life on the islands is not ruff – uh, rough – if you happen to be of the canine persuasion.

It’s a dog’s world out here.

Whether you are riding your bike, running or driving along Sanibel and Captiva, it’s not hard to spot a Spot or Fido among the other dogs that call the islands home. There are more than 200 licensed pets on the island, according to Sanibel city staffers.

Since Sanibel is one of the only Florida beaches that dogs are permitted – on a leash – there is a big draw for dog lovers. And for more gravy, the islands feature a variety of lodgings that allow pets.

Gasparilla Island, Bunche Beach near Lovers Key also allow pets on the beaches.

“It’s a very popular thing,” said Anne Liese, a staffer at the Sanibel-Captiva Chamber of Commerce. “People are always looking for places to bring their pets.”

There are 18 different hotels, motels and inns that are pet friendly, including some that are smack on the beach.

Staffs at the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau say they get many requests for pet-friendly accommodations on Sanibel.

“As travelers are staying closer to home these days, more and more are bringing their pets with them on vacation; this has lead to a high demand of pet friendly vacation destinations and accommodations,” said Suya Davenport, the bureau’s executive director. “In our area, the outer islands are extremely animal friendly and both locals and visitors alike take advantage of this opportunity. Many of the businesses and accommodations on Sanibel cater to our four-legged friends.”

Bridgit Stone-Budd, marketing director for the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce, said the staff takes about 10 calls or e-mails a day requesting information about bringing their pets to the islands. Stone-Budd describes many of the vacationers who come to the islands with pets as friendly, nature-loving and laid back.

And this warm, fuzzy persona exudes from many of the businesses, employees and residents who spend their time on Sanibel. Dogs just seem to rule on the islands.

“It’s paradise for dogs,” said Sanibel resident Joan Burns. “They have a wonderful life.”

Burns said her American Bulldog McKenzie loves going to the beach and playing with her oldest son who uses a wheelchair.

Pooches part of the workforce

Lisa Bramm, property manager for RLR investments, brings her well-mannered dog Buddy to work now and then. He lays in a soft bed, chomps on lime-colored tennis balls and greets clients.

“You wouldn’t believe how spoiled he is,” Bramm said.

And most folks who love to read are quite familiar with Shiloh, a peppy Jack

Russell terrier at the Island Book Nook on Palm Ridge Road. Shiloh hops from his window chair and welcomes customers into the store. Storeowners Melanie Wiford and Jan Wiford laugh about the fact that people will come into the store just to say hi to Shiloh.

A warm, fuzzy atmosphere filled with dogs has helped define one area business.

At Lily & Co. Jewelers, owners Dan Schuyler and Karen Bell make their dogs, Lily, Gracie and Angel, part of the business. They greet customers as they come into the shop and, in advertisements. Lily & Co. also creates events and parties in which the dogs participate. Lily’s Birthday Bash has become an annual event for the community. At the event, folks and their dogs mingle and munch on pupcakes.

Inside a menagerie of one-of-a-kind, upscale jewelry with dog motifs glitter under cases. Schuyler said the store’s mascots are sometimes the most popular item in the store.

“There isn’t a day that goes by that someone doesn’t come to see the dogs,” he said.

Schuyler said that Lily, Gracie and Angel – the youngest in the fold – are a source of delight to islanders widowed or left with an empty nest from their children leaving.

“One woman comes by every day to see Angel,” Schuyler said.

And for vacationers who are visiting sans their dogs, the four-legged crew at Lily’s are like a special amenity in their packages.

“They’re more than welcome to get their dog fix here,” Schuyler said.

Doggone fun at the beach

On Sanibel seeing dogs run on the beach is as ordinary as seeing a gull swoop by. Dogs are permitted on Sanibel as long as they are leashed. Though some balk at having to leash their dogs, others like Joan Burns say the leash law works fine.

“She loves being on the leash,” Burns said. “She has that sense of security.”

And of course owners must remove any waste left by their pets. Dogs are not

permitted on Captiva beaches. For many folks, the joy of splashing through the water is pure ecstasy to both dogs and their owners. Local realtor Diane Barr can often be found walking her young Welsh Corgi, Enzo at the beach. Other full-time and part time folks and their dogs seen roving the beach: Jim Lowry and Denise Carr with their five Scotties; Lisa Bramm with her shepherd mix Buddy; and Sanibel Dog Club, Inc. president Dr. Harvey Sugerman, his wife Betsy and their 3 1/2 year-old golden retriever Lucy.

But having fun in the sun must be tempered with safety measures. Too much sun exposure, drowning risks and heat exhaustion loom.

“I think you have to be careful with the sun,” said Liza Clouse, co-owner of Island Paws.

The pet supply boutique carries a full line of stuff to keep pets safe

including, life jackets for dogs. The shop also carries sunscreen, bandanas designed to keep pets cool, doggles (goggles for dogs), boots to keep tender paws from getting burned on the hot sand and sidewalks and of course waste remover bags.

Eating out with the pooches

Not a day seems to go by when something fluffy and furry isn’t spotted at the Sanibel Bean coffee shop or the Over Easy family-style restaurant in the Olde Sanibel Shoppes. Keylime Bistro on Captiva, The Sanibel Deli and Coffee Factory on Palm Ridge Road, the Blue Giraffe in the Periwinkle Place shopping center and the Sanibel Grill on Tarpon Road also allow dogs. All pets must stay outside in the outside dining areas of the restaurants.

Cheryl Maifeld and her husband Don noshed on lunch on a recent weekday at the Over Easy with their dog, Lexi, a toy Yorkie. The Lake Placid, N.Y. residents weren’t the only ones to have lunch with their pooch on the warm afternoon.

Micki Shea took some refreshment at the restaurant knowing her miniature

Schnauzer Pluto was with her. The tiny salt and pepper pooch is a service dog.

He helps detect sugar Shea is diabetic.

During season folks can be seen at the Sanibel Bean sipping coffee and nibbling on bagels with their dogs laying beside the outside tables. Ann Lieberman and her Lakeland terrier, Sherlock, are regulars during season. It is not uncommon to see Lieberman, a pretty, petite woman pouring over a book while Sherlock watches the other customers.

Living the healthy canine life, island-style

Dogs who live on Sanibel seem to a few extra breaks than their landlubber counterparts – there is less traffic at lower speeds and dogs are required to be leashed. These two facts couple together increase dogs odd of not getting hit by a car, said Dr. Frankie DuPre, a Sanibel resident and veterinarian.

“Having good leash laws are so important,” Dr. DuPre said. “From my end we see it (injured dogs hit by cars) all the time.”

Dr. DuPre said dogs live well on the islands. He said owners must be

conscientious of walking dogs near waters since there are alligators and be

cognizant of mosquitoes and other tropical climate pests and disease bearers.

But otherwise Dr. DuPre said the nature-based islands and typically

conscientious pet owners make for a great place for dogs to call home.

And in order to keep your pet in tiptop shape for island living, Carol

Simontacchi, owner of the Island Nutrition Store recommends feeding pets natural meat and vegetable-based foods. She urges dog owners to use the raw food diet, which is made up of meat, vegetables and is grain-free. Simontacchi, a human lifestyle counselor, touts the benefits of the raw food diet that is available at her shop on Palm Ridge Road.

“It’s intended to mimic what they would eat in the natural environment,” she said.

Her own dog Charlie, a mini dachshund thrives on the raw diet. The little dog was injured several years back when someone accidentally fell on his back.

Future for island dogs

As much fun as the islands can be for pet owners and their pets, some say there is something missing – specifically a dog park.

“It’s good (a dog life on the islands) but it could be much better,” said Harvey Sugerman, president of the Sanibel Dog Club, Inc.

Recently a referendum voted down creating a dog park on Sanibel.

The Sanibel Dog Club, Inc. an organization started two years ago to build a dog park, is hoping to some day have a place for dogs to run untethered.

The 150-member organization will meet again in the fall. Applications to join the Sanibel Dog Club are available at Island Paws, Dr. Sugerman said. There is a $25 annual fee.