Updated Nov. 26: WUFT received Suwannee County animal shelter records on Monday, November 25. The shelter stopped maintaining records in 2010, yet began again in July after the law was implemented.
Unfulfilled public record requests suggest a Florida law aimed at making animal shelter records more accessible to the public is still ineffective.
When the law was implemented in July, WUFT News requested monthly reports of animal intakes, adoptions and euthanasias from 12 counties in North Central Florida.
Seven counties provided complete data, and five did not. Bradford, Dixie, Gilchrist, Lafayette and Suwannee counties were unable or unwilling to fulfill the request.
[doclink to="http://www.wuft.org/news/files/2013/11/North-Florida-county-animal-shelter-statistics-2010-2013updated.xls"][/doclink]During the past three weeks, WUFT reporters filed more requests with those 12 counties and received similar results. The same seven counties remained compliant, and three others did not. Two — Bradford and Gilchrist — provided data from July onward, despite a request for numbers since 2010.
Still unable to comply
Currently, the law does not outline penalties for non-compliance.
Lafayette County doesn’t provide animal control services or an animal shelter, said Sheriff Brian Lamb. The sheriff’s office only deals with dog bites or aggressive animals.
“We’re such a small county that we don’t really have an issue too often,” Lamb said. “We only started keeping aggressive animal records within the last year.”
In July, Dixie County Sheriff’s Office initially claimed animal services did not keep count of its animal intakes and euthanasias. Last week, Maj. Scott Harden said there are more than 150 pages of Dixie County records for the past three years.
Because he was unwilling to send electronic copies or fax records, WUFT News is still waiting for the numbers to arrive through the mail.
Suwannee County Animal Shelter employs two animal service technicians and a part-time secretary, which made it difficult to even ask for the data.
Six of seven phone calls during business hours went unanswered, without an option to leave a voicemail. Its website is outdated and does not provide an email address.
WUFT News was eventually able to place a request but has not yet received any records.
Although Bradford and Gilchrist counties provided current numbers, both were unable to give reports from the past three years, as required by the law.
Bradford County Sheriff’s Office past records were periodically destroyed before the law was implemented, according to Lt. Dawn McKinley.
Gilchrist County Animal Shelter provided incomplete data during the original request, and instead provided overall numbers without monthly breakdowns. Yet this time, they were able to provide month-to-month records beginning in July.
The law’s origin and effects
After the state Senate conducted an interim study on animal shelters in 2008, it became clear that many Florida animal shelters were not keeping adequate records. Of the 180 surveys sent, only about 30 were returned, according to Sen. Bill Montford.
Montford said he sponsored the bill because he believes accurate information is necessary in order for officials to make well-informed decisions at the state and local level.
Still, when county employees fail to make the information public, there are no penalties under the current law.
Montford said the state Senate will review all laws passed last year and assess their effects. He said he believes local officials will abide by the law.
“I’m confident that they’ll do it, but if not we’ll certainly see what steps are necessary to make sure that they fulfill not only the letter of the law but the spirit as well,” Montford said.
He said necessary steps could include enforcing penalties or giving additional state funding to animal shelters.
Records show rescue groups’ success
Many of the cooperating counties included how many animals were transferred to partnering rescue groups in their records, although not explicitly required by law.
Rescue group involvement explains why the adoption and euthanasia numbers do not always equal the number of intakes.
Like many shelters, Gilchrist County depends on rescue groups to help curb euthanasia numbers.
Animal control officer Ericka Hudson said more people come in to drop off animals than adopt in Gilchrist County.
“We’re a small county,” Hudson said. “No one seems to want to pay $90 to adopt.”
Hudson said it costs the county the same amount of money to transfer the animal to a rescue as it does to euthanize. She said she would rather see the animal in a good home than the alternative outcome.
While Gilchrist County’s shelter has itself adopted out 14 dogs and cats over the past four months, 271 animals were transferred to rescue groups for eventual adoption.
In addition to working with such groups, Marion County’s shelter also has a foster program to help limit euthanasia, according to Elaine DeIorio McClain, Marion County Board of County Commissioners spokeswoman.
“Foster families care for animals that come in to the shelter that are too young or too sick to go up for adoption,” she wrote in an email. “They raise or nurse to health kittens, cats, puppies and dogs then bring them back to Animal Services so they can find forever homes.”