January 23, 2017

A meeting of the Lake County Board of County Commissioners was advertised for a special Animal Services session on Monday, January 23, 2017, at 6:00 p.m., in the auditorium of the Agricultural Center, Tavares, Florida.  Commissioners present at the meeting were:  Leslie Campione, Wendy Breeden and Josh Blake.  Others present were:  David Heath, County Manager; Bill Veach, Deputy County Manager; Brian Sheahan, Director of Community Safety and Compliance; Suzi Springsteen-Marks, Animal Shelter Director and Angela Harrold, Deputy Clerk.

Commr. Campione welcomed everyone to the meeting and thanked them for their interest in the important topic of Animal Services. She pointed out that Commissioners Blake and Breeden were in attendance as well as Mr. David Heath, County Manager. She noted that Chief Jerry Craig and other officers of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office were also in attendance. She stated that the Sheriff’s Office was an important part of the transition because they represent the enforcement side of Animal Services. She reported that on January 15, 2017, the Lake County Board of County Commissioners would begin overseeing the Animal Shelter. She stated that the Board was hoping to take the shelter in a new direction by becoming a No Kill Shelter. She introduced Mr. Michael Fry and said that he would be giving a presentation on how to move the shelter to a no kill facility.  She explained that he was from Minnesota and was the director of the first, and largest, no kill shelter there. She noted that he had been contracted by the County to assist in developing policies and helping to put them into place. She relayed that Mr. Fry conducted a nationwide search for a new facility director. She reported that Ms. Suzi Springsteen-Marks had been hired for the position and she introduced Ms. Springsteen-Marks to the group. She pointed out that the Rescue Supervisor Ms. Eve Salimbene was also in attendance.  She explained that they were in the process of assembling a new team and new policies at the Animal Shelter and part of the process was to gather public input, which was the goal for the meeting.  She requested that the group have enthusiasm, intensity and also patience while the transition was in process because it would not happen overnight. She asked for professionalism and team work, and pointed out that there was a great County staff, Sheriff’s Office and Animal Shelter staff working hand in hand to reach the goal.

Animal shelter presentation

Mr. Michael Fry, of No Kill Learning, explained that he was the former Executive Director of Minnesota’s first and largest No Kill animal shelter for 15 years, the former Executive Producer and Co-host of Animal Wise Radio for 10 years and was the current owner of No Kill Learning. He welcomed all of the residents in attendance and stated he was extremely happy with the number of them there. He stated that the measure for a No Kill shelter should be a 90 percent save rate of total intake from the shelter and he pointed out that No Kill is not the percentage but the commitment to not ending the life of healthy or treatable pets. He clarified that the No Kill movement supports the humane euthanasia for animals that are terminally ill or seriously dangerous and collectively, those animals make up less than 10 percent of the shelter intake. He relayed that until June 1, 2001, there had been zero no kill communities in the country; however, he noted that on June 11, 2001, Tompkins County in the State of New York became the very first no kill community and to date there were about 120 communities that were made up of more than 400 cities. He presented a map of the United States showing all of the no kill communities that existed and pointed out how diverse they were but yet all had the same mission of being a no kill community following the No Kill Equation. He explained that the very first animal control practice began almost 200 years prior as dog pounds with a staff member who was called the Pound Master.  He elaborated that it was created as a rabies control effort and the Pound Master’s job was to round up free roaming dogs, hold them for brief periods of time and then dispose of them. He stated that over time there had not been many changes to what animal control’s core function had been except for minor tweaks to the model. He mentioned that the full history was more complicated and could be read in a book called Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America that partnered with a documentary called the same name and it documents several cities as they go through their transition to become a no kill community. He recalled a story from Seagoville, Texas and described their path to becoming a no kill community. He pointed out that the story there was similar to Lake County and many other counties around the country; explaining that the old style shelters are sensitive topics and many departments and officials do not want to be associated with them. He explained that the shelters get pushed aside until the right people pay attention and decide to make a change. He opined that this marked an opportunity for change in Lake County because there was leadership currently in place to pay attention, a thoughtful team in place at the shelter and additional pieces lining up to allow for this change.

Mr. Fry stated that the No Kill Equation was made up of 11 components and they are Trap Neuter Release; Comprehensive Adoption Program; Low Cost, High Volume Spay/Neuter; Rescue Groups; Foster Care; Retention; Rehabilitation; Engage the Public; Volunteers; Proactive Redemption; Effective Leadership. He reviewed the Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) program and recalled that several years prior the Board passed Ordinance 2015-20, which was a TNR ordinance. He noted that free roaming cats breed heavily and the best route to take is to trap them, neuter them and release them, which reduces the amount and also gives a live release option for shelter that is humane. He pointed out that historically the free roaming cats made up the vast majority of lives lost at the shelter; however, passing the TNR ordinance had already resulted in the reduction of the intake of free roaming cats by nearly 30 percent. He reported that processes in place at the shelter had not allowed for the most effective use of the TNR ordinance because they were still taking in a large number of free-roaming cats, holding them for 24 hours and then disposing of them.  He noted that unfortunately a large number of those cats could have been tame housecats that were swept up in the process. He stated that this plus unacceptable housing and other issues were happening at the facility. He reported that new stop-gap measures had currently been taking place by modifying the housing for cats deemed “feral,” increasing coordination with local TNR and Spay/Neuter groups, and staff was working to do as many of the spay/neuter procedures in-shelter whenever possible. He stated that future goals would be to stop taking in healthy free-roaming cats, refer people with feral cat issues to TNR groups, provide educational materials to help people address issues with free roaming cats and implement a Barn Cat Program, which can give a place for untamed cats that end up at the shelter.  He stated that a Comprehensive Adoption Program is important to the No Kill Equation. He explained that the adoption program makes perfect sense because the animals leave the shelter alive and it also had a secondary benefit because the shelter would become a benefit to the community by building relationships with the residents adopting pets. He noted that every adopted pet is spayed or neutered, has had a series of vaccinations, and a microchip implanted. He reported that new adoption steps taking place were capacity linked adoption pricing, adoption promotions, more off-site adoption events and adoption follow-up calls to reduce the number of animals that are returned to the shelter. He elaborated that studies show that by calling the families who have adopted within two weeks it is easier to determine whether or not the pet has a correctable problem, which may have presented itself within those two weeks, and then the shelter can work to help find a solution to keep the pet in the home.

Mr. Fry explained that low-cost spay/neuter is an important part of the program and noted that there were two good low-cost spay/neuter organizations already in the community.  He stated that it would be helpful for the shelter to promote those existing services and added that the spay/neuter program leads to an increase in adoptions. He noted that local rescue groups provide good support to the shelter and it would be a positive move to increase the amount of rescue groups taking animals in from the shelter and to make the shelter animals more available to them. He added that proactively marketing shelter animals to the rescue groups and reducing fees for some animals would be helpful as well. He explained that foster homes expand the walls of the shelter by having animals out in the community and it helps with animals that have special situations, such as being fearful or too young to be kept at the shelter. He reported that one of the new shelter policies already put in place was a change in protocol for orphaned young animals that are still fed through bottles, and there was an increase in marketing to seek out more foster families and promotion of the Foster-to-Adopt Program. He stated that Pet Retention Programs are about sensitive conversations with pet owners who want to surrender their pets.  He elaborated that usually the generic excuse can actually be covering a deeper meaning and at times can be personal so the shelter had started implementing a surrender-by-appointment protocol, which can help in those situations by having a meaningful conversation with the pet owner to try and help resolve the issue. He noted that the shelter would also be providing additional staff training to conduct those intake interviews and linking to a helpful website called PetHelpDesk.org, which provides a catalog of pet help solutions.  He stated that Rehabilitation is an interesting and broad topic covering medical as well as behavioral rehabilitation. He relayed that the shelter was already doing remarkable work medically; however, the shelter facility was lacking, particularly with the dogs, because the kennels are small and are not set up to promote good dog behavior. He elaborated that a large percentage of dogs suffer from barrier aggression and there needed to be a way to determine which behavior was true aggression or just a reaction to their surroundings. He reported that there would be a dog behavior color-coding system to help with the issue that goes from green to yellow and then to red, which would be dogs handled by staff only. He stated that there would be better use of the outdoor play areas for the dogs, which he opined was the best part of the existing facility because they are large and beautiful; however, there had not been enough volunteers to facilitate their use effectively.  He stated that the shelter would implement Playing for Life Training as well and showed a video of dogs playing that had been previously considered aggressive. He explained that once the dogs were out of the stressful kennels and environment they were not aggressive at all. He added that this process also helps the shelter to identify the truly aggressive dogs because once they are out of the kennel environment and in a more natural environment their true personality shows.

Mr. Fry stated that engaging the public is part of the No Kill Equation. He explained that historically there had been a division between the shelter and the public but the No Kill movement has tried to remove those barriers and engage the public more by extending hours, increasing emphasis on customer service, placing better pet photos on the internet and creating interesting adoption promotions and events.  He noted that volunteers are needed to help with the no kill process as they can help with just about every task. He elaborated that one task a volunteer can do is fill the role of “pet detective,” which means when a stray dog or cat comes into the shelter, the volunteer can search all of the various lost animal databases to try and locate its owner and this can save lost animals. He explained that Proactive Redemption is an initiative where the animal control officer actively looks for the owner of a lost/stray pet before bringing it to the shelter. He elaborated that the shelter had already made an agreement with the Sheriff’s Office to follow this initiative so that stray pets can be reunited with their owners in the field and help keep the capacity of stray pets down at the shelter. He mentioned that the shelter will also be utilizing better lost and found systems on the internet, such as nextdoor.com, and this was a good opportunity for the “pet detective” volunteers to help. He stated that the final program within the No Kill Equation is having effective leadership because the shelter director, County Manager and the Board all need to be in agreement on the goals and how to reach them. He opined that the county was in a good position to succeed because there were good personnel in place at the shelter, an engaged County Manager’s office, strong leadership on the Board, and residents that want the no kill shelter. He relayed that effective leadership would also keep up with new nationally recognized best practices for record keeping protocols, have more transparent best-practices in reporting and ask important questions, such as should the shelter be involved in owner requested euthanasia. He commented that the topic of owner requested euthanasia is a touchy subject and wondered if it was a service the shelter should be providing but this was an example of something that effective leadership would be questioning and making decisions on.

Mr. Fry reported that the previous process of holding and euthanizing the animals costs money and is revenue negative. He stated that releasing the animals to rescue groups saves money because there is a reduction in the holding period, no disposal cost, or cost of the euthanasia chemicals and he added that releasing the feral cats to TNR Groups also saves money.  He noted that adoption and proactive redemption saves lives, money and they also generate revenue through fees.  He stated that he felt Lake County had a chance to be the next No Kill Community and could reach a 90 percent live release rate and with continued efforts could reach as high as 95 to 98 percent. He reported that the facility had been designed for a type of animal control that was no longer practiced in Lake County.  He reviewed that surgical areas were not set up well and could cause infections and disease control to be particularly challenging. He stated that there were poorly designed public spaces, and a lack of adequate air conditioning and circulation, which can create discomfort for people and animals and possibly contribute to disease.  He stated overall the materials used to build the shelter were poorly chosen and the floor plan was broken up and disorganized. He pointed out that there had been carpeting placed within the facility that was not conducive to an animal shelter and has started to smell.  He opined that staff had tried to put solutions in place over the years to help the issues but the facility was in dire need of significant maintenance and improvement.  He reported that he had provided a list of emergency stop-gap measures to the Board, which had already begun to take place within the facility and had helped tremendously. He stated that the shelter had been chronically understaffed and that had made all of the other challenges at the shelter more difficult to handle over the years.  He felt that they needed to staff four more animal care technicians and two more office staff.  He summarized the needs and noted that while progress had been made over the years, the current transition had brought about another leap forward for the shelter.

At this time the floor was opened to public comment.

Residents, foster groups and volunteers stated that their general ideas and concerns were screening for individuals who could be adopting dogs for dog fighting; charging the rescue groups a lower adoption fee for animals that need medical attention; increasing the spay and neuter programs; making sure the Spay and Neuter Rebate Program would stay; what the cost of the new shelter would be and would outside sources of funds be possible; community support for the no kill shelter and how they could help; would mandatory spay and neuter be possible; implementing a shorter volunteer process; enforcement of the application process for residents adopting; more investigation into homes where animals may be abused; veterinarians possibly offering free services; more volunteer opportunities for equine; implement a “do not adopt” database; a clear place to report cases of animal cruelty and more follow up after the adoption process to ensure the animal is doing well.

Mr. Fry stated that the adoption fee has no correlation to how the animal is treated after being adopted and added that there would be follow up after adoption moving forward. He stated that the shelter needed to be careful not to chastise the public for how they care for their pets because there could be special sensitive circumstances that are unknown to shelter staff.

Ms. Springsteen-Marks pointed out that people involved in dog fighting are not typically looking for dogs that have been microchipped with a record of adoption.

Commr. Campione noted that the Spay and Neuter Rebate Program would stay in effect. She stated that there would be coordination with the Sheriff’s Department to look for opportunities to modify existing ordinances so that the deputies would have the authority to handle animal cruelty cases more efficiently.

More suggestions were that adoption events should have more detailed screening, possibly revisiting any zoning laws that would limit the number of foster animals at a home; adding shade for the outside areas at the shelter where the dogs are walked; if could there be a law in place that would require retail stores to only carry rescued dogs; look into changing rules or laws to make pit bulls more adoptable; try to reduce or eliminate labeling the dogs in the shelter, specifically as “pit bull mix;” look into partnering with local festivals for adoption events; ensuring that there were trained employees on staff to carry out the new No Kill Equation process.

Mr. Fry stated that there would be more detailed screening criteria for people who want to adopt pets and that was being worked on. He commented that there had been some areas of the country where retail store could only adopt rescue animals. He noted that there had been a discussion to stop using the term “pit bull” as that is not the correct terminology and not a true breed. He encouraged shelters to use the term “American Shelter Dog” unless it is a pure bred American Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Bull Terrier, American Bull Dog, etc. He added that educating the public was also an important part of helping the public understand those dogs.

Ms. Springsteen-Marks noted that she is going to be looking to tap into the strength of the community so that the shelter can be successful.

Commr. Campione noted that there was a state law that required licensing for stores to sell puppies; however, policing it was a different issue and she felt that was something to be looked into. She asked that the residents have patience while the transition is happening and the final steps are completed. She stated that the goal was to make an effort to get information to the rescue groups regularly so that they are aware of the opportunities at the shelter and the new animals that are coming in. She thanked everyone for attending the meeting.


There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the Board, the meeting was adjourned at 8:13 p.m.