The SPCA Suncoast in west Pasco is on pace this year to accept 500 pets from people who can no longer care for them, a 50 percent jump over 2008. Meanwhile Pasco Animal Services, the county-run agency based in Land O'Lakes, must make do with a reduced budget that means fewer field officers and technicians over the next 12 months even though it is projected to impound more than 10,500 animals this year.
Amid these numbers — exacerbated by a recession that has forced people to surrender pets they can not afford to keep — what do you do when someone is willing to care for animals, some of it wildlife, in a recognized shelter?
Arrest him. At least that was the response from a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer last month after an encounter with the director of the Pasco Humane Society in Shady Hills. Clearer minds have now prevailed. Kudos to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office for a common-sense decision not to pursue criminal charges against Ed Alcorn for tending to baby raccoons.
Though it is understood that wild animals and domestic pets are handled differently, the over-the-top response from the state commission toward Alcorn is inappropriate. The agency said it was respectful toward Alcorn and didn't intend to cite him until Alcorn refused to surrender the animals. Still, the commission shouldn't be in the business of discouraging responsible handlers from lawfully caring for animals. That is particularly true at a time when so many people are dumping their pets.
The Pasco Humane Society, which is not affiliated with the national society, has been operating for two decades. Alcorn, his wife, and two children live on the site that also includes domestic pets, roaming deer and other animals. The society cares for dogs and cats, and Alcorn is a court-appointed humane officer, authorized to rehabilitate injured or orphaned wildlife.
That came into question in September and the state officer charged Alcorn with two misdemeanors: possession of wildlife without a permit and interfering with law enforcement/refusal to sign a citation. The commission said Alcorn provided no documentation he was a legitimate humane officer when the officer questioned him at his property. The state ended up taking the raccoons to another shelter.
The confrontation came less than a day after someone dropped off a box of three orphaned baby raccoons at Alcorn's property and after Alcorn said he received a telephone call from someone asking questions about the animals and wondering when he intended to turn over the raccoons to an appropriate agency.
The state dropped the charges last week after Alcorn's attorney, J. Larry Hart, showed prosecutors Alcorn's authorization — an order signed by then County Judge Dan Rasmussen — and pointed out state law is silent about whether a person must sign a citation. The state also would have a hard time arguing Alcorn didn't accept the citation because officers left it with his personal property while he was jailed waiting to post $150 bail.
That Alcorn ever had to head off to jail in the first place is ridiculous. Caring for animals shouldn't be a crime, particularly when you have a 20-year track record of doing so.