Pasco County pet owners may be paying more for their dog licenses next year, but that extra revenue will help the county reduce the number of stray dogs and feral cats.
Commissioners on Tuesday voted 4-1 to approve the county Animal Services Department's business plan, which includes a host of new initiatives to boost pet adoptions. Under the plan, the cost of a dog license would rise from $5 to $10 for a spayed or neutered dog. Licenses for dogs that have not been spayed or neutered would increase from $25 to $35 a year.
"It's an incentive to spay or neuter your pet," said John Malley, animal services director.
Commissioners also approved a reworked animal control ordinance that makes it illegal for dog owners to tether their pets or let them ride loose in the beds of pickups on public streets. It also requires breeders and kennel owners to be permitted and inspected by Animal Services.
The ordinance defines a breeder as anyone whose animals birth more than 20 puppies or kittens a year. Breeders and dealers would be required to maintain detailed records for at least one year on each animal they sell and would be subject to inspection. Any breeder who fails an inspection or violates state laws could be forced to surrender their animals.
After more than a year of debate, commissioners stopped short of outlawing the sale of puppies or kittens at flea markets.
Only Commissioner Jack Mariano objected to raising dog license fees. The new fee schedule, which faces a final approval vote in two weeks, is an offshoot of the department's new approach to animal control. The department came under fire in recent years for having the highest kill rate in the region.
"Our goal is to radically change those numbers," Malley said, noting that the county is shooting for a 90 percent live release rate. "We feel the goal is definitely worthwhile, and it's the wave of what's taking place in the U.S."
The funding will help pay for a mobile adoption unit and for an increase in the department's marketing budget.
He said the department has dramatically improved its adoption rate for dogs, but it needs a different approach for feral cats. "Our feral cat population — they are not adoptable," he said. "Our only option is to humanely euthanize them."
Under the new plan, Animal Services would no longer accept feral cats at the shelter but would implement a "trap-neuter-release" program for cats. Residents who trap feral cats would be referred to a network of 15 local veterinarians to spay or neuter the animals.
The county would issue rebates to the veterinarians for the cost of the operation.
Commissioner Pat Mulieri, who volunteers several days a week at the shelter, said she's confident the spay-neuter-release program is the answer. "You're never going to kill your way out of the cat population," she said.
But Commissioner Kathryn Starkey was skeptical. "I just wonder if people are really going to bring in a feral cat, take it in to be spayed, and then pick it up," she questioned.