NEW PORT RICHEY — After hitting some roadblocks that threatened to stall the effort, two experts are moving forward with plans for the city to take over animal control services.
Veterinarian Dr. Terry Spencer and Sharon McReynolds, CEO of the downtown medical firm Advanced Healthcare Alternatives, have been developing a plan for New Port Richey police and a volunteer unit to handle dog complaints. Proponents believe a local program would save the city money while handling complaints more quickly than the county Animal Services operation based in Land O'Lakes.
The city has already earmarked $57,000 for startup costs, and upon eliminating its $59,000 contract with Pasco County for animal services, the city has estimated a $26,000 annual savings to conduct its own unit.
But with the county contract set to expire Oct. 1, McReynolds and Spencer sent a scathing email to city leaders in June saying no progress had been made to get the program up and running. They threatened then to pull their support.
Their concerns led to a recent meeting between McReynolds and police Chief James Steffens during which he pledged the city would do its part to ramp up preparations.
"It was a positive meeting and I was assured that the city will provide the support we need to make it the success we think it can be," said McReynolds. "We're counting on the city to do what they said they were going to do."
Steffens said working through red tape to end the county contract stalled progress in recent months, but now the city's attorney is drafting an ordinance to enact the unit, which will be presented to City Council next month. The construction of kennels at the Police Department should begin in the coming weeks, Steffens said.
"Nothing comes easy when you make changes like this, but we're determined to enact the mission given to us by the City Council," Steffens said. "We're moving forward."
McReynolds said Friday she has lined up affordable veterinary care for the unit and is now seeking to recruit volunteers for animal control officer positions as well as kennel support.
"We are looking for people from all walks of life," she said.
The timeline is tight, however. McReynolds estimates it will take about two months to train prospective animal control officers.
The Police Department will conduct background checks on the volunteers, and three sworn officers will provide law enforcement support to the unit for cases where there is possible criminal activity, Steffens said.
The unit would handle calls about stray dogs as well as abused or neglected dogs. Unlike the county shelter, the city kennel would not accept walk-ins from residents surrendering their dogs or cats, at least not initially, McReynolds said.
Some details on day-to-day operations are also becoming clearer. McReynolds said the unit's euthanasia policy will not be based on kennel space for dogs, but on the animals' health and aggressiveness.
Initially, the unit will only handle dog complaints, as the county currently does, but planners hope to someday expand to handling cats, McReynolds said.
"Right now we want to focus on services for dogs as we get things up and running. Then as we are operating as clearly and concisely as possible, we will expand to cats," she said.