Here's what I expected from the big gathering of animal lovers at the Hernando County Commission meeting Tuesday morning:
I expected to hear a lot of people who seemed to care less about, say, education than they do about the death of one dog at a place that puts down hundreds of them every year, Hernando County Animal Services.
I expected to see folks who get enraged at, rather than engaged in, local government, who ignore officialdom until something intrudes into their very narrow patch of intense interest — then raise heck.
I expected this column would say, basically: It's a dog, people! Get over it!
And, given that there was a certain amount of predictable foolishness, maybe I could have. One speaker compared Animal Services to a Nazi death camp; a few dozen supporters of the now-martyred dog Zeus had his image plastered across their chests on T-shirts, and on their backs, in blood-red lettering, was the slogan "Never again."
I'd like to see that applied to all the kids who leave our high schools without really learning to read. And, yeah, I wanted to ask a few of these animal lovers if they'd had bacon for breakfast.
But after listening for a while, I had to admit they had a point.
As every newspaper reader and television news watcher in Tampa Bay knows by now, Zeus was turned over to the shelter on the afternoon of April 13, a Friday.
Normally, he would get seven days before being euthanized. But when one of the regular Animal Services volunteers — Laurie Boynton — returned on Monday with a prospective adoptive owner, Zeus was dead, apparently having been led almost immediately from the admission desk to the injection room.
This is not an isolated case, Boynton said, but a pattern of "inhumane treatment ... neglect ... and cruelty."
Another dog had been allowed to bleed to death over six days at the shelter. And when a 14-year-old, deaf-and-blind, flea-ravaged dachshund mix was admitted into the shelter, Boynton gave Animal Services manager Liana Teague pills that kill fleas almost instantly. A week later, when the dog was adopted, it was still infested and apparently unmedicated.
Boynton also said some employees at Animal Services resent the volunteers, which is a shame, because it is mostly due to their work promoting adoptions that 185 fewer dogs have been put down in the first six months of this fiscal year than in the same period last year.
Even someone as unsentimental about animals as I am recognizes that the deal we make with pet species is unique. We have a responsibility to care for them as best we can, and — though I'm sure there are two sides to this story — it doesn't seem as though Animal Services is doing that right now.
The commission was right to call for a thorough investigation by the county auditor.
But in Teague's defense, she took over the duties of code enforcement four years ago, and since then the Animal Services budget has been slashed about 45 percent. This may not be the main cause of this mess. But if you want good, well-trained people (one person suggested Teague be replaced by a veterinarian), you have to pay for them.
And if any animal lovers decide they do, in fact, want to choose engagement over enragement, there's a county budget workshop scheduled for next Tuesday.