Animal activist Andrea Wells talks to Pinellas County Commissioners Dec. 10 about the necessity of a mandatory spay and neuter program.
CLEARWATER - For months, animal rights activists have attended Pinellas County Commission meetings to speak during the public comment segment.
It all started after a Sept. 10 work session on two topics: trap, neuter, vaccinate and return for the county’s feral cat population and mandatory spay and neuter for all dogs and cats in Pinellas County. The commission agreed to look at a volunteer-run program for TNVR but concluded that the current voluntary spay and neuter program was sufficient.
However, a small but passionate and persistent group continues to advocate mandatory spay and neuter, which they say is necessary to control the number of unwanted and uncared for animals in Pinellas County. Thus far, the commission has continued to maintain its stance in favor of continuing a voluntary spay/neuter program.
A group of volunteers has been working on a plan for trap, neuter and release since September. Meow Now is expected to make a presentation to the commission in a work session perhaps as early as February.
Commissioners approved advertising during the Dec. 10 meeting for a Jan. 28 public hearing on changes to the Animal Services Ordinance. The changes don’t cover mandatory birth control, except for animals impounded for a second time, and it likely won’t cover trap, neuter and release, although commissioners asked staff to try to get an update on the group’s progress ready by Jan. 28.
The scheduled topics include change of the county’s rules for dangerous animals to bring Pinellas in line with state law. Another change would provide clarification of definitions for animal cruelty and neglect. The commission also will consider changing the hold time for strays and adding mandatory sterilization at the owner’s expense for any animal impounded at second time in a 24-month period.
Currently, the county’s rules on dangerous animals are more restrictive than state law. The courts have ruled that county law cannot be more restrictive than state law. Commissioners will consider adding a definition for shelter and penalties for those who do not provide adequate food, water, shelter, veterinary services and humane treatment for their animals.
Animal Services staff has suggested changing reclaim hold times, the time an owner can claim their animal after it has been brought to the shelter, to consider the wellbeing of the animal.
Staff said the longer an animal is held at the shelter; the more likely it is get sick. They say it is important to move animals through the shelter process as fast as possible, so if they are not reclaimed, they can be adopted.
If commissioners approve the changes Jan. 28, hold times for animals with a license or other means of owner identification will be held for at least seven days with day one being the day of impoundment. Dogs 16 weeks of age without identification will be held four days. Individual puppies under 16 weeks of age will be held two days. Litters of puppies under 16 weeks will be held one day.
Impounded cats over 16 weeks of age without identification will be held three days. Impounded kittens under age 16 weeks will be held for one day.
According to information posted at www.pinellascounty.org/animalservices, current hold time is seven days for animals with identification and four days without an ID. There is no provision for animals younger than 16 weeks.
Animals left at the shelter longer than the hold times will be moved to the adoption area if they are healthy and have a “good temperament.” Animals may be sent to another shelter. According to the website, animals are not euthanized unless they are unadoptable due to behavioral or medical issues.
All dogs and cats at Pinellas County Animal Services are sterilized before adoption unless a veterinarian determines it would endanger the animal’s health.
While mandatory sterilization is not on the agenda for the entire county’s animals, those who are found running loose and taken the shelter twice within 24 months will have to be sterilized at their owner’s expense before the owner can claim them.
Staff initially proposed that mandatory sterilization be required for any animal brought to the shelter before its owner could claim it. However, during the September work session, the public gave examples of cases where an animal could escape its home without it necessarily being the owner’s fault.
The county attorney agreed that two times would allow animals owners to be warned about the consequences if their animals was found running loose a second time.
The commission holds its public hearings beginning at 6 p.m. during the second regular meeting of the month. Meetings are in the fifth floor Assembly Room of the County Courthouse, 315 Court St., Clearwater.