NEW PORT RICHEY — The city is making a push to adopt out dozens of dogs and cats as it prepares to shut down its animal control program and hand over the reins to Pasco County.
An agreement — which is under final legal review by the county — is expected to go to the County Commission for a vote Jan. 14, said Assistant County Administrator Suzanne Salichs.
If it's approved, the estimated cost will be about $113,000 for the first year — which includes $28,794 in equipment startup costs — and will cost the city a little more than $84,000 the following year.
Mayor Bob Consalvo spoke to Pasco commissioners Tuesday, urging support for the agreement, while city leaders have asked the program's volunteer director, Sharon McReynolds, to continue operating the kennels until the remaining 35 dogs and 14 cats are adopted. County officials have said they won't accept those animals.
McReynolds informed the city last month that she intends to resign Dec. 31, and her husband, Jeff — who has been the program's sole animal collector — quit last month. That has left the Police Department to respond to emergency animal complaints. McReynolds told the Times on Wednesday that she is down to one full-time volunteer, leaving her with a round-the-clock schedule that is damaging her health.
"I'm disappointed, because we have done great things, but my main goal right now is finding a home for these guys," she said.
McReynolds' departure has been contentious. In an email to interim City Manager Susan Dillinger and police Chief Kim Bogart, she blasted the city for failing to build kennels in the city as planned.
That led to a series of problems, beginning with an agreement with the SPCA Suncoast to house the program on the nonprofit's Congress Street site. But the SPCA booted the city off its property in March, saying parvovirus had spread from the kennels on loan to the city into its main facility, killing several dogs.
McReynolds was also accused of not reporting the outbreak to the SPCA.
The City Council then signed off on a plan to temporarily move the animals to rented kennels in Land O'Lakes. The move caused numerous volunteers to pull out of the program because of the distance, and some former volunteers publicly accused McReynolds of mishandling animals — accusations she has denied and the city has declared unfounded.
But instead of backing her amid the accusations, McReynolds said, the council was publicly critical of the program and sought a deal with the county, leaving the program operating for months without the ability to recruit new volunteers.
"I am exhausted and feeling very used," McReynolds wrote in her email. "It is a terrible feeling to be basically fired, but told to continue until something better comes along."
Consalvo acknowledged that in-fighting among the volunteers could not be controlled and the distance to the kennels made the program unworkable.
"The volunteers worked hard. No one can deny that. I just don't think we asked the right questions about infrastructure and who the volunteers would be reporting to for it to work," Consalvo said. "I don't regret trying. But it just didn't work."