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Citrus County Animal Services changes county rules around vaccination, sterilization and more

The Humane Society takes in dogs like Curtis, pictured above, as well as cats and small mammals. (Photo courtesy of the Humane Society of North Central Florida)
The Humane Society takes in dogs like Curtis, pictured above, as well as cats and small mammals. (Photo courtesy of the Humane Society of North Central Florida)

After filling the previously empty in-house veterinarian position, Citrus County Animal Services director Colleen Yarbrough wanted to change policies in a way that would be better for the community.

The department and the Citrus County Board of County Commissioners on Monday released an update to county ordinances about pets. The update includes a wide range of issues from rabies vaccination to sterilization of companion animals.

One of the bigger changes is the usage of the staff veterinarian to sterilize any runaways who are not yet fixed and whose owners do not have what is known as an unaltered pet license.

In practice, this policy may lead to more pets being sterilized in the county, which in turn could lead to lower pressure on animal shelters, rescues and humane societies. Yarbrough said accidental animal pregnancies are a problem that is all too common.

“It’s going to decrease the unwanted dog and cat population in our entire county, which will result in less need for animals coming into our shelter,” she said.

Yarbrough also said one of the main reasons for the change is the previous system’s dysfunction.

Previously, owners picking up their pet at Citrus County Animal Services would have to buy a voucher for a sterilization surgery at a vet of their choosing within 30 days. According to Yarbrough, many people would make appointments then not show up, causing trouble for both veterinary clinics and Citrus County Animal Control.

Heritage Oaks Veterinary Hospital Administrative Assistant Kelly Winters said while her office did not participate in the voucher practice, she knows how badly this issue affected veterinary offices in the area.

“It would hinder a lot of scheduling if they’re finally getting a reserved appointment and they’re not showing and you’ve got a list of other kiddos that do actually want to get that surgery done or potential appointments or emergencies,” she said.

According to Winters, many veterinary offices are low on staff and have been having increased issues with scheduling due to the pandemic. She said she hopes the end of the voucher practice will help with enforcement of the sterilization ordinance.

“I hope overall it will help with compliance, more than anything, that more pets are ensured to get spayed and neutered versus having that good faith aspect and relying on the owners to get it done after the fact,” she said.

Owner operator of Hylia’s Pampered Pups French Bulldog breeders Michelle Smith said she does not really agree with the policy of animal services sterilizing someone’s pet. However, she said she believes responsible owners and responsible breeders would not have a dog get out too many times.

“I personally think that that’s wrong,” she said. “People have accidents, if it's a multiple times thing, then yeah, I understand that.”

Smith said she has only had a dog get out once when she first started breeding French Bulldogs. Since then, she is always sure to take the precautions necessary to make sure her dogs are safe and without an escape route.

“It does happen, some dogs are escape artists, and I’ve got one that can jump a five-foot fence,” she said. “There have to be provisions made to keep that pet where it’s supposed to be.”

Animal Control Supervisor Lora Peckham echoed this call for responsible pet ownership. She said responsible breeders have the right paperwork in place and are able to keep their dogs from getting loose.

“A valid, reputable breeder should, and would, have an unsterilized license for their breeding pets,” she said, “and their pets should not be running loose so that they’re going to be picked up and brought to the shelter as loose, stray pets.”

Yarbrough said the ordinance changes are not meant to harm breeders, her hope is that there will be more sterilized animals leading to less overpopulation in the county shelters.

“We hope that it will encourage pet owners to be responsible,” she said.

Sydney is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.