SPRING HILL — From operators and volunteers at small independent rescue groups to animal welfare activists to everyday pet owners, they all came looking for answers.
What to do about Hernando County's burgeoning population of stray and abandoned animals?
About 250 people attended the town hall meeting Tuesday evening at the Palace Grand to listen and ask questions of people in the community whose task it is oversee the welfare of unwanted pets.
A panel consisting of Hernando County public safely director Mike Nickerson; Humane Society of the Nature Coast executive director Joanne Schoch; SPCA volunteer director David Raponi; Liv Burke, founder of Compassion for All His Creatures; and ASAP Animal Clinic owner Dr. Raul Figarola listened intently to often emotional testimonies.
Audience members addressed a number of issues, including the county's policy prohibiting the release of sterilized feral cats into the wild.
But most seemed to agree with Lisa Lewis, owner of CARES Rescue in Brooksville, who blames the increase of abandoned pets on people who are simply unwilling to accept the responsibility of pet ownership.
"Not everyone who wants a pet deserves a pet," Lewis said. "If it's not in your heart to care for an animal, why bring it home?"
The moderated discussion was prompted in part by the controversy surrounding the death last month of an 8-month-old mixed-breed dog named Zeus that was put to sleep shortly after arriving at the county Animal Services shelter. The incident prompted a suspension of all but medically necessary euthanasias at the shelter until an internal audit of the department's practices is completed in the next few weeks.
Nickerson did not comment on the Zeus incident, but did say that conditions have improved greatly at the shelter. While "live outcomes" have increased significantly during the past two years, he said he felt there was more room for improvement.
"We need to get better," Nickerson said. "And we're going to work hard very hard toward that goal."
Schoch admitted that only a communitywide approach is likely to stem the flood of stray and abandoned animals that are overwhelming both public and private resources. She urged those in attendance to work together, as well as with county shelter officials, to find solutions.
"It's going to take an army to make these changes," Schoch told the audience. "The euthanasias will stop only when the community as a whole wants it to."
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.