The truth is finally out: More than 900 dogs and cats were put to death in July and August at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Pinellas County. Almost three-quarters were healthy or had treatable problems, but they weren't saved because there were just too many of them. That is a powerful argument for responsible pet ownership and easier access to free or low-cost spaying and neutering.
Getting to the truth about kill rates at the SPCA Tampa Bay was not easy. For years the public believed the Largo facility was a no-kill shelter, and the nonprofit agency did not do enough to correct the false impression. It did not post its euthanasia rates and was vague or uncooperative when asked for numbers.
That has changed since the St. Petersburg Times' Kris Hundley revealed in August that about 50 percent of animals brought there never made it out, that many of the animals killed had correctable problems — such as needing to be house-trained — and that the volunteer board of directors was woefully uninformed.
The board has announced its intention to provide better oversight, the shelter is making an effort to explain that animals may be euthanized, and it is posting euthanasia statistics on its Web site, www.spcatampabay.org. They show in July, 500 animals were killed and of those only 139 met SPCA's definition of "untreatable" because of problems such as aggressiveness or illnesses. In August, 402 were euthanized and only 102 were untreatable.
SPCA Tampa Bay's increased transparency is a step in the right direction, but it should do more to bring down its kill rate. Other shelters have accomplished that feat by boosting adoption promotions, providing more free or reduced-cost spay and neuter surgeries, recruiting more volunteers to foster animals, and adding veterinary staff to care for animals with treatable illnesses. Of course that will require more support from donors and aggressive pursuit of grant dollars.
The SPCA provides a vital public service and accepts any animal regardless of condition. But it doesn't have enough money, space or staff to care for all of the animals it receives. The flood of lost, unwanted or feral animals brought there is unceasing — up to 15,000 a year — as it is at other Tampa Bay shelters. Area shelters are euthanizing thousands of animals every month. Owners who don't get their pets spayed or neutered, who allow them to roam outdoors, or who abandon them ought to be shamed by those numbers. Ultimately, the flood of animals will be stemmed only when owners take their responsibilities more seriously.