BROOKSVILLE — It's time to end the "culture of killing'' at Hernando County Animal Services, says the executive director of a nonprofit clinic that works closely with the shelter.
Richard Silvani of the PetLuv Non-Profit Spay and Neuter Clinic delivered that message to the county's public safety director on Monday and said he will repeat it to the Hernando County Commission today.
Major changes are needed at the shelter, Silvani said, and should include the ouster of Animal Services manager Liana Teague, whom he likened to a tumor that needs to be excised.
County commissioners have been inundated with irate phone calls and emails from animal lovers angered over the euthanizing of an 8-month-old pit bull mix named Zeus on April 13, shortly after the dog was turned in at the shelter by relatives of its owner.
The county has opened an investigation into the incident.
In an email to Public Safety director Mike Nickerson and county commissioners, Silvani wrote: "Liana Teague has for years proven she cannot manage this department. She spends much of her time covering up and making excuses for incidents she should never have let happen in the first place.''
The county would be better off hiring a veterinarian manager for the $81,000 in annual pay and benefits that Teague receives, he suggested.
Silvani also resurrected the controversy from 21/2 years ago when Animal Services took in dozens of abandoned Shih Tzu dogs. Half of them ended up dying or being euthanized because they contracted parvo virus. And he said he was concerned about several other animals recently euthanized that had adopters waiting for them.
During the first six months of the county's 2011-12 fiscal year, 55 percent of all animals brought to the shelter were euthanized.
Along with Silvani, shelter volunteers and others are expected to speak to commissioners today, urging changes that would prevent another incident similar to the one involving Zeus.
Silvani, whose organization has an agreement with Animal Services designed to provide medical services for shelter animals, making more of them adoptable, said he might cancel that agreement if the county doesn't change the way it does business.
"PetLuv won't waste its time, energy and money on the organization because it's ultimately going to fail,'' he said.
Silvani said some workers at the shelter have openly spoken against the agreement, which is one of the ways the county has partnered with the community to cut down on the number of euthanized animals.
"They have resisted it since the beginning,'' he said, noting that the same problems will keep coming up until Teague and several other Animal Services workers opposed to the outside assistance are gone.
"This isn't about Zeus,'' he said. "This is about a failure to change the culture of killing that has affected Animal Services for years.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.