NEW PORT RICHEY — The city's embattled volunteer Animal Protection Unit may have a new home for the dogs it collects.
Plans are under way to move out of the kennels on loan from SPCA Suncoast as soon as city-owned kennels can be built at New Port Richey's former public works building at 6420 Pine Hill Road, in an industrial park just west of Congress Street.
Interim City Manager Susan Dillinger told the Tampa Bay Times she has directed the Public Works Department to begin looking at constructing kennels at the site.
Building kennels at the old public works site could be a quick project, according to Public Works director Sherman Applegate. He said workers would just need to pour concrete and build fences to create kennel space, which his Public Works staff has the know-how to complete.
The city would not need a site plan, as the building — which had been previously used for administrative offices — is already up to code and has electricity, according to Applegate.
"I think we could begin construction within a week," Applegate said.
The city's volunteer-run animal control unit, which began operating last October, has been borrowing kennels next to the SPCA headquarters on Congress Street. But earlier this month, the SPCA called on the city to vacate those kennels 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.
"We appreciate if this is kept somewhat quiet, as it could become a nightmare in the press," McReynolds wrote in that email to New Port Richey Detective Greg Williams.
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.
Steffens left the chief post this week to take a job with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.
Dillinger said she will meet with Williams for a report on the unit's operations, which have stalled, in part, because the borrowed kennels are filled to capacity. Williams said the unit has 17 dogs in its care.
"I will be meeting with Detective Williams and the volunteers to discuss what we need to do to move forward," Dillinger said.
The City Council has also called for a full report on where the Animal Protection Unit stands. Mayor Bob Consalvo, who last week described the program as being "in shambles," said he has received little information about the recent issue raised, aside from the plan to build the kennels at public works.
Council member Bill Phillips said he would like to have a discussion about the unit on the council's agenda for next Tuesday.
"I have serious concerns," he told the Times. "I think it needs to be on the agenda so we can get a full report and have a discussion by council of what our options are."