BROOKSVILLE — The cats and dogs that land at Hernando County Animal Services for the next several weeks will be getting a break.
Under a temporary procedure put in place Friday, healthy animals will no longer be euthanized before a seven-day hold just because there is no space. That was the reason given for the untimely death of Zeus on April 13, an event that since sparked a firestorm of controversy.
Even potentially feral cats will get a minimum of 24 hours and two separate adoptability assessments before they are recommended for euthanasia.
The number of cages that must be kept open each day or on weekends has also been reduced, allowing for the housing of additional animals.
The personnel involved in making assessments and carrying out euthanasias will not be the same who were involved in the Zeus incident. In fact, the core group of volunteers who have raised the questions about the shelter's practices will see daily and weekly reports on the animals and will be told in advance which will be euthanized and when.
The final decisions on any euthanasia will be left with Mike Nickerson, public safety director.
Animal owners will not be able to bring their pets to the shelter to have them euthanized for the time being. Instead, they will be referred to other veterinarians for those services.
The temporary policies will remain in effect until the audit and investigation into the incident and other issues at Animal Services is completed by the audit services staff of the clerk of the circuit court. That is expected to take about a month.
Laurie Boynton, the volunteer at the shelter who witnessed the Zeus incident, said she was pleased with the procedures as proposed.
"It's a great step forward and I hope it's not temporary,'' she said. "Putting the people who really care about animals in charge of the decisions is going to give animals more time to get rescued.''
But Boynton said there were still some ways to adjust the policy to provide an even better chance to find more animals homes. She was working on a list of suggestions to submit to Nickerson Tuesday afternoon.
She wanted to see language in the agreement that mandates doubling up and even tripling up dogs in kennels when practical to allow room for more animals. In addition, she wants the shelter to consider each kennel as two kennels because they are all divided by gates.
That would double the amount of space available to 116 kennels.
The seven-day waiting period for all strays and animals turned in was also welcomed by Boynton, but she would like to see that extended to all confiscated animals and to see a provision allowing shelter workers to find rescuers for unweaned kittens to be extended to puppies and wild animals as well.
Richard Silvani, executive director of PetLuv Nonprofit Spay and Neuter Clinic, the organization which partners with Animal Services by providing medical services for shelter animals, pushed for more time for cats thought to be feral.
"We have all been fooled by "wild" cats that were just freaked out from the trapping and transporting experience but settled down and became sweethearts in a couple of days,'' Silvani wrote to Nickerson in an email last week.
Silvani argued that just because cats landed in a trap didn't mean they were feral and they just weren't trapped by the local "curmudgeon … because he's on a mission to clean up the neighborhood.''
Because of the exchange, Nickerson modified the policy giving more time to assess trapped cats.
Boynton especially hopes that the county will provide the volunteers information about animals on the list for euthanasia early enough to put out calls to rescues and foster parents. She said that list always draws the attention of groups wanting to help animals.
"At that point, it's personal,'' she said. "They know that, 'if I don't save this dog, he's going to die tomorrow.' "
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.