Animal rights advocates asked Pasco County commissioners Tuesday morning to adopt a "no-kill" policy for the county's Animal Services Division.
Yvonne Ponce, who spoke in support of the "no-kill" policy, said 19 percent of the animals in 2002 were released from the shelter and 15 percent in 2011.
"So what does that mean?" Ponce asked. "Eighty-five percent are killed. They are euthanized. These are animals that could be rescued, more if there was more advertising, if there were more people getting involved in rescuing."
The commissioners agreed to study the issue of a "no-kill" policy after hearing from about a dozen animal advocates.
Supporters of a "no-kill" policy filled a good portion of the commission chambers inside the West Pasco Government Center.
The animal advocates also criticized conditions in Building C, located at the Animal Services property at 19640 Dogpatch Lane in Land O' Lakes. They said there is no air conditioning and the animals inside are not treated well. Some said dogs were covered in fleas and feces and not fed on a daily basis.
"I'm here today just to ask that you help make changes that make a difference on the overflow of animals," Jennifer Knaust told the commissioners. "We're not asking for money, pity, just to help. That's all we want."
The no-kill movement began in Berkley, Calif., in 2001, and is gaining acceptance in communities across the nation. Last year, Manatee County became the first Tampa Bay area county to adopt the policy.
The core philosophy of no-kill is that healthy, adoptable animals should never be killed because a shelter runs out of space. Groups such as the Humane Society and Save90 say a 90 percent live-release rate is a reachable goal, though they insist they are not stuck on a hard number. They point to other cities and counties that have achieved 90 percent survival rates just a year or so after adopting a no-kill policy.
Several commissioners said they were animal lovers, including Commissioner Pat Mulieri.
"Animal control is not an easy job and I have – I won't tell you how many cats I feed and they're all neutered because I live on a farm," Mulieri said. "I know that has not been always supported by Pasco, but I do believe strongly in trap, spade and release."
Former commissioner Michael Cox said he hadn't planned on speaking or even staying for the entire meeting, but was moved by the impassioned speeches from those trying to save the animals.
"Like other areas of the county we have and you have filled the voids of a falling budget with volunteers and I think this is one area that certainly could use a lot more volunteers," Cox said. "And I would highly encourage you to get behind that and to take a look at trying to promote and push that as much as you can."
He also suggested there was $150,000 remaining in the budget unused from facility upgrades at animal services. He said that excess money should be poured into upgrading the ventilation system inside Building C.
"I would just clarify that, first of all, we're all in the same goal with animal welfare," said Dan Johnson, assistant county administrator for public services. "Unfortunately, apparently some people do not recognize that the staff out there are in for that purpose."
Sean McCart assured the board he wasn't looking to disparage the county or act as a troublemaker. His main goal was to help those animals housed in the county's shelter.
He said his group of animal advocates would be willing to either come to the shelter and wash, feed and care for the animals or fully take care of the animals, housing them, removing the burden from the county.
"There seems to be a general consensus," McCart said, "that the services being offered by Pasco County Animal Services are not meeting the expectations of residents. Ask any well-respected, nonprofit rescue organization, many of them are here today, which county in Florida is the worst to deal with and many of them are going to tell you Pasco County.
"It's mainly a communications issue," McCart added.