Thursday, April 26, 2018
Public safety

New Port Richey's Animal Protection Unit off to busy start

NEW PORT RICHEY — It has been a fast and furious start for the new face of animal control in New Port Richey.

Since the city launched its Animal Protection Unit — a partnership between local volunteers and the New Port Richey Police Department — Jeff McReynolds has emerged as the program's lifeblood.

McReynolds is the city's only volunteer certified animal control officer and has been putting in 60-hour weeks responding to animal complaint calls, driving the streets looking for strays and sheltering them.

So far he has captured nine stray dogs and found the owners of seven others. He has responded to 14 barking complaints and been called out after hours six times by police dispatch to deal with animal concerns. He has even accompanied pet owners to veterinarians to ensure rabies shots.

And all for no pay.

"I really love it. It's all about helping the animals," said the Missouri native, former cop, licensed pilot and a scuba instructor. "I'm a dog lover so I feel like I get to save dogs' lives every day."

• • •

New Port Richey took over its own animal control services Oct. 1, ending its longtime contract with Pasco County. The City Council said it expected to save money and reduce complaints from residents unhappy with county service.

The program is the brainchild of McReynolds' wife, Sharon, an animal lover and owner of the downtown medical clinic Advanced Healthcare Alternatives.

She and veterinarian Dr. Terry Spencer spearheaded the effort for the volunteer-led program, which is under the authority of the Police Department.

The city is investing $57,000 in startup costs and expects the program will cost about $20,000 to $30,000 a year. By contrast, the city had been paying Pasco County about $60,000 a year.

Getting to the launch point was rocky.

First, county officials publicly expressed doubt that the city could pull off its own program. Then as Oct. 1 approached, Sharon McReynolds several times threatened to pull out saying the city had dragged its feet on building kennels and drafting the necessary ordinances. She and Spencer also were incensed that initially the city planned to nix a licensing program for animals in the city, as well as the handling of cats by the unit. The rift eventually led Spencer to disassociate from the program.

In the end, the City Council said it did want a licensing program established and for its unit to eventually handle cats. But the council agreed both should be phased in after the first six-months of operation of the unit. Sharon McReynolds agreed and stayed on.

• • •

All that past wrangling doesn't seem to have affected Jeff McReynolds, 51.

"There were people in the county that were very vocal that we couldn't do this,'' he said, "but I think we are going well so far."

The setup is unique, with McReynolds partnering with police Officer Greg Williams. They took a 40-hour course to become certified animal control officers.

Williams, a 10-year veteran in the department, responds to animal complaints that could be dangerous or involve criminal activity.

"I love dogs. I'm always watching those animal cops shows," he said. "I've just been really impressed and amazed at how much time Jeff has been willing to put in on this."

It didn't take long for both men to be tested. On Monday, they responded to a complaint by a pedestrian who said two pit bulls had tried to attack him. When McReynolds and Williams investigated, one dog charged Williams and he shot and killed it.

McReynolds said the dogs were not licensed. "It makes you beyond frustrated, beyond mad that these owners don't take better care of their pets," he said.

• • •

The program faces challenges. The kennel is on loan from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on Congress Street until one can be built at the Police Department. Quarters are tight. On Thursday, there was only one open spot. Fortunately, McReynolds said, animal rescuers have been adopting dogs regularly.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle moving forward will be launching the licensing program. In six months, the city plans to have McReynolds and other volunteers begin writing citations for unlicensed animals.

But there could be a backlash from a public unaccustomed to such enforcement. McReynolds said he has not come across a single dog that has a county license. So it's going to be a huge task to change the culture in the city.

"There's been a lack of enforcement for so long,'' he said. "It's really an epidemic right now in New Port Richey of these dogs with absolutely no documentation. No license, no record of rabies shots."

Comments
Deputy, another driver injured when car strikes patrol vehicle

Deputy, another driver injured when car strikes patrol vehicle

LARGO — A Pinellas County sheriff’s deputy and another driver were injured when a sports car hit a sheriff’s sport-utility vehicle on Thursday evening, according to the Sheriff’s Office.Both were expected to survive.The crash took place just after 6 ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Police announce two more arrests in St. Pete strip club shooting

Police announce two more arrests in St. Pete strip club shooting

ST. PETERSBURG — Two more arrests were made recently in connection with the April 2 shooting death of a man outside an unlicensed adult entertainment venue on Fourth Street S, police said.Rodriguez Green, 24, of Largo and Darius Trennell Collins, 23,...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Hernando High student accused of threatening to shoot up school

Hernando High student accused of threatening to shoot up school

BROOKSVILLE — A 17-year-old Hernando High School student was arrested Wednesday for threatening to shoot people at the school, according to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office.The student was serving a suspension at the time of the incident, deputie...
Updated: 6 hours ago

Details emerge in fiery crash that killed prominent Moffitt doctor

TEMPLE TERRACE — Investigators say an orange Dodge Charger was moving about 90 mph when it ran a red light and broadsided a prominent doctor’s car last month on Fowler Avenue. The impact caused Dr. Charles Canaan Williams’ Acura to...
Updated: 6 hours ago
St. Pete police: Man who stole car with baby inside arrested

St. Pete police: Man who stole car with baby inside arrested

ST. PETERSBURG — A man accused of stealing a car with a baby inside earlier this week was arrested Thursday morning when officers spotted him in another stolen car, according to St. Petersburg police.Rashad Webb, 19, was arrested at about 2 a.m. afte...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Long wait at Wingstop ends in brawl, hot oil and second degree burns

Long wait at Wingstop ends in brawl, hot oil and second degree burns

TAMPA — A customer visited Wingstop on Sunday night to pick up his order. What happened next was off-menu:Robert Williams said he suffered second-degree burns on his back and legs after a Wingstop employee threw hot oil on him during a scuffle.Willia...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Orlando man sought in Interstate 4 carjackings captured in Tampa

Orlando man sought in Interstate 4 carjackings captured in Tampa

TAMPA — A 43-year-old Orlando man who was being sought in a string of carjackings along Interstate 4 was captured on Thursday, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.Majar L. Jones, 43, was considered armed and dangerous and the subjec...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Florida has one of the highest rates of fatal hit-and-run crashes, study finds

Florida has one of the highest rates of fatal hit-and-run crashes, study finds

Florida is among the top three states with the highest per capita rates of fatal hit-and-run crashes, a new study published on Thursday by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found.From 2006 to 2016, the organization examined hit-and-run crashes in...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Florida man pours gasoline and sets girlfriend on fire, police say

Florida man pours gasoline and sets girlfriend on fire, police say

GAINESVILLE — A 55-year-old Florida man is accused of pouring gasoline on his girlfriend and setting her on fire.Gainesville police arrest report says Roosevelt Kitchen was charged with attempted murder. He was being held Thursday on a $1 million bon...
Published: 04/26/18
FHP identifies driver in crash that killed

FHP identifies driver in crash that killed "smiling" teen

TRINITY — Friends said what they’ll remember the most about Lillia Morris is that she was always smiling.The 17-year-old Mitchell High School junior was killed Tuesday when a sport-utility vehicle ran a red light on State Road 54 and slammed into the...
Published: 04/26/18