A plan to move Pasco Animal Services to a 90 percent live-release rate is causing an overcrowding issue at the agency's Land O' Lakes shelter.
About three weeks ago, Pasco County commissioners voted to move from what was once an 85 percent kill rate to a 90 percent live-release rate. In doing so, a temporary moratorium on euthanasia was put in place.
When that edict went into effect, the shelter had 102 animals, Pasco Animal Services Director John Malley told commissioners during their meeting Tuesday. After three days, the population went to 178. The following week, that number climbed to 215.
By Tuesday morning, the shelter, which was meant to house between 150 and 180 animals, had 320 animals.
Animal Services staffers are putting together a plan to reach the goal of releasing 90 percent of the animals the shelter takes in, Malley said. The plan should be ready in about a month; once it is, it should take about a year to hit the target, he said.
"It's a very ambitious goal to get to that save 90 [percent] mark," he said. "What we're asking to do in the meantime is to be aware at this point we need to lift that halting of the euthanasia for feral, sick, severely injured and aggressive animals.
"That still ties in to the 10 percent. That's the population of animals that unfortunately have to be humanely euthanized because there is no other option."
The shelter will start euthanizing animals again on Saturday following a unanimous vote by county commissioners. The first group of animals to be put down will be the severely injured, then the feral animals, followed by those that are ill and aggressive. The shelter will still honor hold times put in place to allow people to adopt an animal before it is too late, Malley said.
Euthanizing those animals likely will drop the population to about 180, and that will help efforts to prevent any illnesses or diseases from being passed on from one animal to the next, he said..
The bulk of the overcrowding at the shelter is due to feral cats, Malley said.
Animal Services came under heavy criticism this summer due to low live-release rates. In June, Malley said the live-release rate went from 19 percent to 55 percent in a year's time. It now stands at 58 percent.
When the commission voted three weeks ago to adopt a 90 percent live-release rate, it joined the ranks of many across the nation in the no-kill movement, which began in Berkley, Calif., in 2001 and gained acceptance in communities across the nation. Last year, Manatee County became the first 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.
Malley and his staff contend the reason for the shelter's high euthanasia numbers is multifaceted. Part of the issue is owners who don't spay or neuter their animals, creating a larger population of animals. Another is the fact Pasco Animal Services is an open-admission facility, which doesn't turn away any animals.
Another part of the problem is not having more people willing to adopt animals.
"We need people to step forward," County Commissioner Pat Mulieri said. "John's staff is very happy. I was there (Monday), and they thanked all the board for what you're doing because they don't like to kill animals.
"Some of the animals are released by owners, it's the saddest thing. I tried to get this flyer. … It was an old dog, and it says 'Today is my day. I will either see my new home or see God.' And you'd be surprised how many healthy old dogs, 12, 13, 14, who are running around right now where I live that could be fostered."
Mulieri and Malley said they are receiving phone calls from veterinarians from across the Tampa area willing to donate their time to help spay and neuter animals eligible for adoption.
The Pasco Animal Welfare Society will dedicate Thursdays to doing the same.
"That's the type of community action that is the solution to the [problem]," Malley said.
Mulieri also suggested the animals need to continue to be taken out to different public events, where they can be seen by potential adopters. During a recent event at the West Pasco Government Center, four out of of the five animals there were adopted.