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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

When going from the corner of 18th Terrace and Seventh Avenue to find Bruce Baber, you can’t help but notice the signs.

Each red-and-white sign flashes its message to onlookers as they move down the street.

“Save Bruce... Save Bruce... Save Bruce.”

The signs first appeared in the neighborhood when Baber’s home-operated dog-sitting business, Mydogspace, came under fire in June.

In November, the Gainesville Board of Adjustments ruled that Baber would be allowed to continue watching over others’ dogs in his home, but he could not collect money for the service.

Now the board’s decision is being appealed, and Baber again finds himself battling for the right to watch dogs on his property.

The City Commission will hear arguments for the appeal Thursday.

The appellant is June Bowe, who leases her property at 1723 NW Seventh Ave.

When Baber learned of the appeal, he described himself as being “depressed, appalled, surprised and angry.”

“They had weeks of advance notice that they could have gone to the board,” he added, as he held a small, furry, white dog named Huckleberry. “The board made their decision. But legally this is just a process they have a right to go through with.”

When the case originally went in front of the board, two questions were considered, said board member and current City Commission candidate Jimmy Harnsberger

One of the questions was whether or not Baber should be allowed to watch dogs on his property. The other was whether or not he should be allowed to take money for it.

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Because Baber had been watching dogs since 1987 — eight years before the ordinance that disallowed dog-sitting appeared in 1995 — the board allowed him to continue. However, he could no longer receive payment for the services he provided through Mydogspace.

But there is no law against collecting payment for walking dogs, so Baber continues to receive his income for that service.

Dog-walking is an integral part of Baber’s old business, and he takes the dogs out about three times a day.

The sight of Baber walking around the block with up to ten dogs at a time has become a neighborhood institution, said Albert Matheny, a UF political science professor and a former neighbor of Baber’s.

Matheny, who owned the Bowes’ house from 1979 to 1999, said he is bothered by the complaints coming from the tenants of the residence because he is dissatisfied with the current state of his old home.

“The house looks like a pigsty,” he said. “Somebody should complain about the way they keep their house.”

Residents living at the property owned by Bowe declined to comment, and calls to Mike Bowe were not immediately returned.

Matheny played a large part in sparking Baber’s interest in taking care of dogs. When Baber moved back to Gainesville after his father’s death, he earned money by helping Matheny with odd jobs, including baby-sitting his son and walking his dog, Grendel.

“He loves animals of all types,” Matheny said.

Dustin Carpenter, a neighbor who lives across the street from Baber’s and the appellant’s houses, said he only hears the dogs when he’s outside and the dogs are fighting. The noise, he said, doesn’t bother him.

During the proceedings Thursday, no new physical evidence can be introduced to the commission, said Commissioner Thomas Hawkins. Instead, the Commission can only rule on existing evidence gathered by the Board of Adjustments.

However, Hawkins said he cannot guarantee the Commission will not listen to new arguments brought forward.

“When people come to City Hall, they expect to be able to participate,” he said.

Baber said he is unsure of what he will do if the Commission rules against him, and he also said he doesn’t want to speculate. But he was certain about one thing.

“I and my supporters will be there,” he said. 

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