BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County Commission will consider several recommendations today designed to turn around the troubled operation at Hernando County Animal Services.
One recommendation is to spend about $245,000 to add a veterinarian to head the shelter and two other staff positions, a suggestion that has generated support from the animal welfare community.
The other is a 57-page ordinance that has animal advocates up in arms. Since details were released Friday, those advocates flooded commissioners with emails urging them to vote down the ordinance, warning it would increase euthanasia numbers.
County officials are eager to make positive changes at the shelter in the wake of the botched euthanasia of a dog named Zeus in April and other reports of the facility's shortcomings.
Animal advocates blast the proposed ordinance for declaring that anyone who sells animals or who has more than four mature dogs on less than an acre, more than six dogs on 1 to 2 acres or more than eight dogs on larger parcels would be considered a kennel. Kennels require a license.
In addition, the advocates say the proposed ordinance gives officers the right to inspect the grounds and records of kennels as well as other properties where animals are kept.
They also criticized a portion of the ordinance that requires all stray animals be reported to Animal Services.
"There are a lot more animals that are going to get killed in this county," said Laurie Boynton, one of the core volunteers who has been working to have more shelter animals adopted. "There are going to be a lot more (animal rescuers) we've been networking with like crazy to save more animals … who will not rescue here anymore."
As for the requirement to report stray animals to the shelter, she said, "A number of the (rescuers) take in strays on purpose because we don't want them going into the shelter," where they may be euthanized.
Richard Silvani, executive director of the PetLuv Nonprofit Spay and Neuter Clinic, told commissioners in an email that there are "severe problems" with the ordinance. He was especially concerned that the ordinance allows "certified euthanasia technicians" to shorten an animal's time to euthanasia based on their observation of disease, pain and injury.
"That is the purview of a licensed veterinarian only and for any technician to do it would be practicing veterinary medicine without a license and is against the law," he wrote.
Others sending emails warned that those who organize the Florida Classic Clusters dog show might permanently move it to another location if the ordinance is approved.
Public Safety Director Mike Nickerson and Assistant County Attorney Jon Jouben, who helped write the ordinance, said the document was intended to implement animal services improvements detailed in a recent audit and in a report from the University of Florida.
Those reports were designed to increase the number of live outcomes at the shelter, not decrease it, Nickerson said.
Jouben said that the ordinance will not limit the number of animals on a property and will not require a rescue to have a kennel license.
Also, "the proposed ordinance does not allow animal control officers to conduct warrantless inspections against a property owner's will. No county ordinance can contradict the United States Constitution," Jouben wrote in an email to the Times.
Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes said he was concerned the ordinance might create more problems than it solves and he doesn't want to see that happen as the county is trying to make the shelter better.