NEW PORT RICHEY — The contentious relationship between the city's volunteer animal protection unit and the SPCA Suncoast has come to an end, as the city has pulled out of the kennels on loan from the nonprofit.
Interim City Manager Susan Dillinger said the unit vacated the SPCA kennels Tuesday and entered into a lease with veterinarian Joseph Brooks to use kennels at 10125 Land O'Lakes Blvd.
The moves comes a week after Dillinger announced the city will build its own kennels in an industrial park off Congress Street, less than a mile from SPCA headquarters. But that could take a while, so in the meantime the city will pay Brooks a little more than $3,500 for the rest of March and April to use the Land O'Lakes kennels as a stopgap measure.
"It's going to work for us for the time being as we build the kennels in the city," Dillinger said.
The SPCA had loaned a spare kennel building at its Congress Street headquarters to the city's animal control unit when the volunteer program launched in October. But earlier this month, the SPCA told the volunteer unit to clear out as soon as possible after a parvo outbreak killed 10 dogs from the SPCA shelter.
SPCA executive director Jennie Briguglio told the Times she believed the outbreak originated at the kennels on loan to the city. The city-run kennel was placed under quarantine after losing two dogs to parvovirus, according to a Jan. 28 email by Sharon McReynolds, head of the volunteer unit. But McReynolds never told the neighboring SPCA.
That revelation came on the heels of concerns raised by outgoing New Port Richey police Chief James Steffens in emails to Dillinger over volunteers' handling of the unit's operations. Among other things, he described how McReynolds authorized $1,400 in medical care for a pit bull that Steffens said should be euthanized, and noted that McReynolds refused to put down a couple of other sickly dogs that ex-volunteer Beth Robbins believed were needlessly suffering.
Dillinger acknowledged regret over the relationship souring with SPCA and the allegations over the parvo outbreak.
"It's terrible. No one wants to see any dogs die," she said.
Council member Bill Phillips — who has called for a full report on the unit's operations to be an agenda item in front of City Council — said he is pleased with the movement to remove the program from the SPCA and find a home until kennels can be built in the city.
"Do I wish it was closer? Yeah. But we are doing to right thing in trying come up with solutions," he said.
Phillips said he would also like to hear directly from SPCA officials about the parvo outbreak and whether the city caused the organization any monetary damage. Among other things, the SPCA issued refunds to 10 families who adopted dogs that died from the virus.
"I would like to see the timeline there. If there is something we need to do for the SPCA, then we should do it," Phillips said. "Let's do the right thing."