More than two weeks after the new Florida law requiring county agencies to make available to the public a record of how many animals are being taken in, adopted out or euthanized, some North Florida counties are unable or unwilling to comply.
Over the past six weeks, WUFT News requested from 12 counties in North Central Florida monthly reports detailing cat and dog intakes, adoptions and euthanasias from January 2010 through the first quarter of 2013.
Seven counties were able to provide the records, but five other counties (Bradford, Dixie, Gilchrist, Lafayette and Suwannee) did not fulfill the request.
Bradford County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to multiple requests for the information.
Dixie County does not keep count of intakes or adoptions.
“As far as adoptions, we do not adopt the animals out,” Maj. Scott Harden of the Dixie County Sheriff’s Office wrote in an email. “They are either claimed by the owners or euthanized.”
Gilchrist County Animal Services provided incomplete data, simply passing along the total number of intakes, adoptions and euthanasias since 2010 without breaking them down monthly.
The overall values obscure whether the numbers are rising or falling. (Gilchrist’s total euthanasias for 2010 to 2012 were the lowest of any county that reported, though it’s also the smallest by square miles.)
Lafayette County doesn’t fund an animal shelter or the monitoring of stray intakes and outcomes, according to its sheriff’s office.
And Suwannee County stopped monitoring intakes and outcomes in 2010.
Offering the numbers online, by email or fax is the way they’ve always done it.
“Obviously, (counties are) going to have to follow this new law that’s out, but for us, it’s nothing new,” said Vernon Sawyer, director of Alachua County’s Animal Services.
The problem arises with county employees who remain unable to make public the information.
Under the law, they face no penalties. Sen. Bill Montford (D-Apalachicola), a sponsor of the bill, did not return multiple calls requesting an explanation about the law’s enforcement.
Joe Brown of the Suwannee County Animal Shelter said he would be glad to track and publicize his county’s cat and dog numbers, but cannot do so without more money or staff.
The Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office allots $10,000 annually for animal services, and it’s not enough, he said.
“We’re just swamped,” said Brown, whose office used to maintain the records but stopped in 2010. “There’s two of us, plus a secretary who works four hours a day.”
During afternoons, Brown and his lone co-worker, Janis Hunter, must split time between monitoring the animal shelter and fielding calls across the county. Until they have more resources, even with a new law, “nothing’s changed,” Brown said.
Decreases across the region
There are few things that frustrate Tricia Kyzar about her job more than an adult cat dropped off at the Alachua County Animal Shelter’s doorstep.
Kyzar helps with operations there, and one day last week she pointed out an adult longhair grey cat who is going to be much harder to adopt out than a kitten in an adjacent cage. Grown cats are not as cute as kittens, and they’re also more stressed and less friendly in a shelter after spending the majority of their lives in homes.
Such an animal will go from a home where it’s not wanted anymore to the shelter, then likely to an early end.
These outcomes have been decreasing across North Central Florida during the last three years, largely thanks to private, non-profit rescue shelters.
A majority of the adoptable animals who aren’t adopted or euthanized in county shelters find homes via “no-kill” organizations.
Many of the intake, adoption and euthanasia totals of the past three years do not add up in the seven reporting counties because of rescue shelter involvement that helps to curb euthanasia rates.
Levy County works with nearly 100 such groups nationwide, and five in Gainesville have formed a partnership with Alachua County’s shelter. The Alachua County Humane Society, Gainesville Pet Rescue, Haile’s Angels Pet Rescue, Puppy Hill Farm and West End/Helping Hands all regularly rescue pets from the shelter, helping to create a 60-percent decrease in euthanasias from 2010 to 2012.
Levy County has avoided any overcrowding euthanasias in 2013, according to Lena Hooker, animal services administration and rescue coordinator.
“That’s because of our rescues. The majority of our euthanasia this year has been aggressive or sick dogs and cats,” she said.
Hernando and Columbia counties had the most impressive shelter adoption increases, and while Putnam County only had on file numbers since January 2012, its 2013 year-to-date figures also evidenced a drop in intakes and euthanasias, plus a rise in adoptions.
Law vs. personal responsibility
Marion County’s overall numbers remain the highest of any surrounding counties, but its population and land size are also the largest. Elaine DeIorio McClain, Marion County public information specialist, pointed out a positive trend for the county’s animal supporters during the past decade.
“Although our county’s human population increased 29 percent from 2001-2011,” she wrote in an email, “our euthanasia rates decreased by 30 percent in the same ten years.”
The law’s goal is to make public trends such as Marion County’s, though without enforcement, counties that don’t track the statistics face no repercussions.
“We need to make sure that throughout Florida, we have correct data and accurate data and make sure it’s available to the public,” Montford told News4Jax earlier this month.
In some counties, that’s not yet happening. Even if it did occur across the state, the best method to control cat and dog populations and euthanasias is personal responsibility, according to Philip Christie, an employee at Lake City Humane Society.
As he prepared shots to counter canine parvovirus Thursday afternoon in Columbia County, he reflected on his upbringing and how things have changed.
“I grew up on five acres here with farm dogs running all over,” he said, “so I understand that desire, but we just need the public to be smarter about it.”
Fernanda Ponce, Sarah Reichert and Brittany Van Voorhees contributed reporting.