DADE CITY — Pasco is ending its nearly monthlong moratorium on euthanizing animals at the county shelter, a move that had caused the animal population to skyrocket.
The measure began in response to a barrage of criticism from some animal advocates who argued the county was needlessly killing animals. Another policy change from the county is a promise to create a "save 90 percent" program to find permanent homes for nearly all of the animals that come through the county's doors.
Because of the halt to euthanasia, Animal Services manager John Malley told county commissioners that the shelter had 320 animals on Tuesday morning. That's more than twice its stated limit of 150.
"We need to lift the halting of the euthanasia for feral, sick, severely injured and aggressive animals," he told commissioners. "That's the population of animals that unfortunately have to be humanely euthanized."
He estimated the shelter would likely have about 180 animals if those types of dogs and cats were put down.
The shelter population remained about 320 on Wednesday, and Malley said the staff would not resume euthanizing animals until Saturday.
"We want to give the citizens and the rescue groups the opportunity to see if they can help us save some of these animals before they are put down," Malley told the Times.
The shelter is closed today for the holidays, but Malley said people can view animals online (visit tinyurl.com/Pasco-Petfinder) and email Pasco Animal Services at firstname.lastname@example.org if they plan to adopt a particular animal.
"We'll put a hold on that animal," Malley said. "It is an unusual week, with the holidays."
The shelter will resume normal hours on Saturday, when it will be open to the public from noon to 4:30 p.m. It's at 19640 Dogpatch Lane (off Lake Patience Road) in Land O'Lakes.
Malley said the moratorium had lessened the push by rescue groups to find homes for animals in the county shelter.
"Unfortunately, in this line of work, people react to what they call the 11th hour," he said. "When we stopped euthanasia, we had a downturn in animals going out from adoption partners because it removed the sense of urgency."
Commissioner Pat Mulieri has been working as a mediator between critical animal advocates and county staffers.
"It's a new day for animal control," she said. "They're trying, but it's very difficult."
Last Friday, Mulieri participated in a volunteer effort to clean cages and said she will take time out during each commission meeting to share the story of an animal up for adoption.
She is also organizing a series of events to showcase animals at various locations across the county. She believes many residents outside Land O'Lakes simply aren't aware of the county shelter.
"We have to get the animals in front of the people," she said. She said some rescue groups are helping find homes, but added, "we need people to step forward."
Commissioner Henry Wilson added: "The rescues and the shelters are telling us to do this, they're asking us to do this. I don't see where they're stepping up to help us out."
Even with a return to euthanizing feral, injured or aggressive animals, the county's shelter will likely be at or near its 150-animal limit.
That figure is not the same as the total number of cages in the shelter. It is based on national guidelines regarding cleaning cages and medicating animals based on a shelter's staffing and volunteer levels.
"If John (Malley) happens to get another 100 dogs in there, we've got a problem," said County Administrator John Gallagher. "Our goal is (finding homes for) 90 percent, and staff is working extremely hard on that. In the interim, I don't want to put the shelter at risk."
Most of the animals that would be put down are feral cats. "They are wild animals, they cannot be rehabilitated or tamed," Malley said.
He said the long-term solution is a trap, neuter and release program. That would eventually lower the population of feral cats, and reduce the number brought to the shelter. That program will be part of a "save 90 percent" business plan staffers hope to finish in about a month. Malley said the entire plan would take about a year to implement.
Lee Logan can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6236.