BROOKSVILLE — Three weeks ago, Hernando County commissioners faced a roomful of angry animal advocates. Their official email was filled with comments from several hundred others from around the world.
Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes, sensing a potentially volatile situation, sent the county's legal staff back to the drawing board on the controversial proposed overhaul of the county's Animal Services ordinance.
Since that time, assistant county attorney Jon Jouben has been meeting and corresponding with interested groups. Based on those conversations, he has been redrafting the ordinance, which is designed to take into account recommendations laid out in a recent audit and studies of the embattled department.
The changes, which will be presented to the County Commission on Tuesday, are in response to the controversy that began in April, when Animal Services euthanized a young dog named Zeus just 12 minutes after the animal was surrendered to the shelter by a relative of the owner.
The 50-page draft ordinance addresses a number of problems identified in the previous proposal, but Jouben noted in an email that there were contradictory opinions from various groups. Other opinions differed from what the county staff needed in the ordinance. In those cases, county staff needs remained.
The National Kennel Club and the Florida Association of Kennel Clubs suggested that the county drop a provision requiring people to report stray animals to Animal Services and surrender the animals upon demand. There were fears that the requirements could discourage the rescue of animals.
But Jouben noted that the county staff and others suggested the reporting requirement remain so the county could have "a central repository of information regarding missing animals,'' so it was left in.
Another controversial element in the original proposal allowed inspections of animal establishments, including kennels and foster homes.
Jouben rewrote the section to say that an inspection of facilities and records could happen if an Animal Services officer obtained permission from the owner or operator, or a warrant.
A provision that required adopters to agree to a home inspection also raised some concerns, Jouben noted. At the suggestion of one of the interested parties, he said, "I have modified this provision to state that potential adopters will have to agree to an optional pre-adoption inspection."
Because of the position of the county staff and the auditor who conducted the Animal Services audit earlier this year, Jouben said he could not take out a requirement that adopters register the microchips of their animals and a prohibition on taking in owner-surrendered animals at the shelter.
Both of those changes were proposed by animal welfare advocates.
Other provisions in the draft ordinance would allow the shelter to adopt out or release any dog or cat impounded after three days and euthanize any dog or cat impounded after five days.
Those hold periods are not required if the animals are sick or injured, or in the case of feral cats.
Jouben also expanded the language in the ordinance describing what shelter staffers must do when an animal is impounded to check for microchips, tattoos, tags and other identifying signs and how to repeatedly try to contact owners.
Jouben said he was satisfied with the new version of the ordinance.
"I understand that not everyone will be completely happy with the final product, but I believe that it represents a fair compromise among the workgroup's members' divergent views,'' he wrote.
"Even though this project began with a great deal of public controversy and dissension, I am proud of the fact that we were able to work together in such a professional, collegial manner.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.
BROOKSVILLE — Veterinarian Raul Figarola, the temporary manager of the Hernando County Animal Services shelter, sent out an urgent plea for help Thursday because an influx of strays required the shelter to euthanize 12 dogs for space this week.
His email went to rescue groups in the area, but he said he also would make the plea to residents who might want to adopt an animal.
Going into the three-day Veterans Day weekend close to capacity at the shelter, he said, is a concern because the Sheriff's Office requires that Animal Services keep some kennels open for animals impounded over the weekend.
An unfortunate illustration of the need for space was the fact that a 2-year-old pointer mix named Lennie was among the dogs euthanized this week. A week ago Thursday, the lively dog was featured on a new Hernando County Government Broadcasting show called Adoption Options.
Just hours after Lennie was euthanized, someone came forward to rescue him. Two other dogs featured on the show also have been euthanized, according to shelter volunteers.
"I hate to say it, but it drives home the point,'' said county public safety director Mike Nickerson. "It's tragic, but the tragedy is that we've got a bunch of people's pets here.''
Barbara Behrndt, Times staff writer