NEW PORT RICHEY
The city's new animal protection unit has already run out of kennel space.
Since the program's inception in October, New Port Richey has been using kennels on loan from the Suncoast SPCA at its Congress Street facility until city-owned cages could be built. The city decided to run its own animal control operation, instead of using Pasco Animal Services, in an effort to save money and get more local service.
But now officials are moving away from the longtime plan to build the city's kennels behind the New Port Richey Police Department on Adams Street. Among the concerns about that site: Volunteers with the animal control unit would need to be granted access to the secure area behind the Police Department, and the kennels would put numerous barking dogs right next to a row of neighbors, police Chief James Steffens said.
So the city is looking for a new site, which means it will take longer than expected for New Port Richey to build its own kennels.
Steffens told council members Tuesday that he plans to extend the city's memorandum of understanding with the SPCA to continue using those borrowed kennels for a while longer. The kennels on loan to the city are separate from the SPCA's own animal shelter.
City Council member Bob Langford relayed concerns from one of the volunteers who described cramped conditions at the borrowed kennels.
"We've opened our arms more than we expected," Steffens acknowledged.
In an interview Friday, Steffens called the program's early days a "wild success," but said as with any new program, there will be challenges to overcome. One of those challenges has been assessing which dogs to bring into the facility, he said.
Steffens said the volunteers naturally want to save every dog they come across. But he said the mission of the unit must remain protecting the public while collecting only dangerous and roaming animals.
"We need to make sure that we don't become a rescue or adoption center," Steffens said. "So that's the evaluation process that we are in. We're looking at what's working and what's not working."
The borrowed kennels include 11 fenced runs and several smaller crates, all of which were full on Friday. The city is paying Pasco Animal Hospital veterinary clinic $15 a day to house another dog, said animal protection officer Jeff McReynolds.
"It's overflowing full," he said. "We need space."
McReynolds — who says he volunteers at least 60 hours a week serving as the unit's only animal protection officer in the field — said the program has up to 30 volunteers who clean the kennels and feed and walk the dogs several times a day.
Other than the space crunch, McReynolds said the unit has been a success. He said the unit has kept its promise not to euthanize any animals unless absolutely necessary. That's happened twice: One dog had been severely injured by a car. Another was found starved to the brink of death, he said.
There have been some success stories, too. A pit bull named Keona had a cancerous tumor removed from her leg and is recovering well. McReynolds also found an abandoned poodle with matted, filthy brown hair that actually turned out to be white when groomed. A vet treated the poodle's leg, and McReynolds and his wife, Sharon, who helped found the unit, have taken Rosie the poodle into their home.
"I'm exhausted," said McReynolds. "But I love it. I feel like I'm saving lives every day."
Steffens said help is on the way. Two of his police officers are scheduled for animal control training and certification next month. The hope is also to have two more volunteers take the same training in order to give McReynolds a hand.