A special MEETING OF THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
March 16, 2017
A meeting of the Lake County Board of County Commissioners was advertised for a special Animal Services session on Thursday, March 16, 2017, at 6:00 p.m., in the Emergency Operations Center, Tavares, Florida. Commissioners present at the meeting were: Leslie Campione, Wendy Breeden and Sean Parks. Others present were: Brian Sheahan, Director of Community Safety and Compliance; Suzi Springsteen-Marks, Animal Shelter Director; Eve Salimbene, Rescue Supervisor; Autumn Emmil, Foster Program and Rescue Coordinator; and Angela Harrold, Deputy Clerk.
Ms. Suzi Springsteen-Marks, Lake County Animal Shelter Director, thanked everyone for attending and noted that the meeting was geared toward the rescue groups with the hope that the Animal Shelter and the rescue groups could start working together as partners.
Commr. Campione welcomed everyone to the meeting and hoped the meeting would become a regular occurrence to connect with the rescue groups and to ensure efforts are being coordinated. She stated that introducing new policies and processes had been a difficult task. She asked that the rescue groups, who collectively had years of animal welfare experience, give the animal shelter team the benefit of the doubt and allow them the time to try new things and to find what works when implementing new policies, as they have their own experiences to draw from. She explained that if they find that something does not work, staff would regroup and try something new. She stated they are trying to maintain a positive approach and project a positive energy into the community, because a lot of emotions were involved when it came to animal welfare. She asked that the shelter be contacted with questions and concerns and added that if they are not satisfied with the answer after speaking with the shelter, that they contact her or Mr. Brian Sheahan, Community Compliance and Safety Director. She stated that making sure the facts get out into the public will help the shelter become and stay successful and that she was looking forward to building the partnerships with the rescue groups.
Ms. Springsteen-Marks noted that the group of attendees was diverse, which was a positive thing because the animals in the shelter are diverse as well with a wide array of different needs. She explained that each animal needed individualized care, and having a pool of different rescue groups working together would be the best chance in helping more animals at the shelter. She introduced Ms. Eve Salimbene, the Rescue Supervisor, and Ms. Autumn Emmil, who was over the outside adoption events, the Volunteer program and Foster program, and also the Rescue Coordinator. She added that she wanted to acknowledge the amount of work Ms. Salimbene and Ms. Emmil had done during the transition period. She introduced Mr. Michael Fry of No-Kill Learning and the Lake County Animal Shelter consultant and explained that he would be going over important information regarding how the shelter and the rescue groups can coordinate. She explained that a lot of the changes taking place at the shelter would affect the rescue groups so staff wanted to take the time to explain the new process and why changes had been made.
Mr. Fry informed the rescue group attendees that there would be a more detailed shelter status report the following Tuesday, March 21, 2017, at the regularly scheduled Board of County Commissioners meeting. He wanted, however, to let the group know that he was very proud of the work that had been accomplished by the shelter staff in the interim. He stated that adoption programs and rescue groups were two of the most important parts of the no-kill equation, because they were the bridge connecting animals from the shelter to their new homes, and ensured that the animals are spayed/neutered and vaccinated, and facilitated a relationship between the adopters and the resources that can assist them in being more responsible pet parents. He gave a brief history of how shelters were started and what the relationship between shelters and rescue groups had been, which had not always been positive. He opined that the meeting was a large part of working constructively with the rescue groups to build trust on both sides. He mentioned that it can be a tough job to bridge the gap between the shelter and rescue groups, making the playing field more level for all parties involved, which included the general public, and ultimately helping the shelter become successful. He explained that Lake County needed the rescue groups to work with its shelter to have a robust adoption program. He reported that approximately 23.5 million pets are taken into homes each year and 8 million enter shelters, with approximately 4 million of those adopted. He continued that leaves approximately 3 million pets that need rescue, and with millions of homes each year wanting to adopt, that did not leave a pet overpopulation. He stated the research indicated that the public believed that animal shelters and rescues are unfriendly to people and are too restrictive when trying to adopt a pet, so they tend not to think of the shelters as an option. He relayed that in Lake County there are approximately 57,385 dog owners and 73,615 cat owners and assured them that the vast majority of those owners are good people who care about their pets. He explained the process of open adoptions, such as “Just One Day,” a program started in 2005 that engages the community in rescue events around the country. He reported that in 2016 there were 15,000 organizations involved in “Just One Day,” and the program had led to approximately 50,000 adopted pets to date, across the country. He stated that open adoption programs are being held at many shelters around the country throughout the year and are endorsed by most national animal welfare adoption agencies. He presented a photo of an open adoption event at the animal shelter where Ms. Springsteen-Marks worked previously, which pictured a long waiting line to adopt a pet.
Ms. Springsteen-Marks explained that the event pictured took place midmonth in November and came about due to a real estate agent who had helped the shelter previously through donations. She elaborated that the real estate agent asked the shelter director what the most beneficial donation would be for the animals that year, and the director stated that sponsoring free adoptions would be the best contribution. She continued by explaining that they posted the event on the shelter website, social media and alerted the local media to get the word out about the free adoptions. She reported that they had long lines every day through the end of that year, and over 1,000 animals were adopted during those five weeks. She noted that it was incredibly successful and pointed out that the event adoption return rate was approximately ten percent, which was equal to that of the normal adoption return rate.
Mr. Fry stated that universally shelters and agencies do not see an increase in return rates after an event is over. He pointed out that a concern of the community was that animals would fall into the wrong hands during these events; however, there was no credible evidence that happens. He opined that individuals who abuse animals or who are a part of dog fighting do not typically want neutered and microchipped animals, as those animals can lead the authorities back to the individual. He explained that he had been a part of a group that broke up a dog fighting ring, and none of the 200 dogs rescued had been neutered or microchipped. He stated that this unsubstantiated fear in the adoption community has led to a more restrictive process which results in millions of animals not being adopted and possibly euthanized. He opined that the new policies and procedures for adopting a pet at the Lake County Animal Shelter are neither overly restrictive nor too lenient. He reported that the animal shelter would work with rescue groups in the area on different approaches to ensure that there continued to be a good balance. He reviewed the success stories where rescue groups in Austin, Texas and Washoe County, Nevada played a critical role in transitioning the two areas into no-kill communities. He noted that the common factors in each of these cases were that rescue groups played a key role, open adoptions were successful components, everyone involved set aside outdated assumptions, and the public was engaged. He stated that how potential adopters are treated and how local rescue groups are engaged are probably the most important conversation of the no-kill equation. He thanked the groups for coming and hoped that they would sign up to become part of the no-kill solution in Lake County.
The attendees stood and introduced themselves and spoke about their specific rescue groups. All attendees were asked to sign a contact sheet to provide contact details for themselves and their rescue groups.
Ms. Salimbene welcomed everyone, thanked them for attending the meeting, and commented that she enjoyed hearing which type of animal each of the rescue groups specialized in. She explained that the new Managed Admissions Program, which was started January 15, 2017, was mostly an educational component but also took the option away from people to drop off their pet at the shelter without explanation or background. She elaborated that managed admission started with counseling the pet owner who contacted the shelter and allowed shelter staff to ask questions about the pet and the situation and try to work with the pet owner on a solution before accepting the pet into the shelter. She noted that sometimes while talking to the pet owner, the staff will find out that the pet owner just needed a little help, specifically with spay/neutering or affordable pet care and did not know where to go to get that assistance. She pointed out that if it gets to the point where the staff cannot get the problem solved, they then try to work with the owner to keep the animal in the home while space can be made within the shelter. She noted this also allowed staff to schedule time to speak with the owner when they arrive to gain information that would be helpful to get the pet adopted. She reported that the new Managed Admissions Program at the shelter had been working well and it had already helped many individuals and pets.
The attendees from the rescue groups clarified that there was no cost for a pet owner to surrender a pet and that there had not been an increase in stray animals at the shelter. They also learned more had been done with strays that were picked up, such as tracking microchips and licenses to get the animals back to their owners. It was clarified that the shelter will still implant the microchip prior to adoption, but it is the owner’s responsibility to register the chip information in the national database.
Mr. Fry pointed out that there are a lot of owners who try to surrender pets to the shelter that do not ultimately need to; they just need a little guidance. He explained that a pet retention program, such as Managed Admissions, is important because it prevents pets from being continually surrendered, which makes the staff more reactive as opposed to proactive.
Ms. Emmil stated that when the new management took over the shelter, they noticed a high rate of euthanasia in cats, a large number of them feral. She explained that to counteract those high euthanasia rates, the shelter launched the Working Cat Adoption Program. She elaborated that the program allows for feral cats to be adopted and placed within homes that meet specific criteria, such as properties with barns and outdoor structures. She added that the cats are examined and held to the same standard as all of the animals that are adopted from the shelter. She explained that the adopters are counseled on the importance of vaccinations and how to introduce and care for their working cat, and they are not able to leave the shelter with a working cat unless they are clear on what to expect from housing the cat; additionally, they are sent home with all of the counseling information that was presented to them at the shelter as well as given useful information for the adopter to share with family, friends and neighbors on living with community cats, because some residents can have issues with having a working cat in their area. She stated that additional counseling is available for any follow up questions or concerns, and the hope was that the program will continue to grow.
An attendee asked where the cats in the working cat program came from.
Ms. Salimbene replied that residents trap them because they do not want them in their yards. She explained that the shelter accepts feral cats but does counseling prior to the cats arriving at the shelter to try to divert them to groups equipped to care for them, because it is extremely stressful for the cats to be in the shelter as they are not set up with proper housing. She pointed out that the shelter should be the last option, and they prefer that the resident find a rescue group who will do Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR); however, the staff will council them and explain that the shelter is not equipped with housing for the feral cats.
Ms. Springsteen-Marks stated that the shelter was not currently set up to perform TNR and was looking for good resources to partner with to facilitate that relationship with residents.
An attendee replied that the University of Florida had a program called Operation Catnip which performed free neutering and vaccination for feral cats once a month.
Ms. Salimbene explained that there was a void within Lake County of TNR groups, and partnerships with TNR are a big part of keeping euthanasia rates down because most feral cats can be difficult to treat.
Ms. Springsteen-Marks explained that the shelter’s inability to treat them is due to the inability to handle them safely.
A representative of L.E.A.S.H., Inc (Love. Enrichment. Adoption. Shelter. Health.) clarified that when the rescue groups take the feral cats in to a veterinarian, they are typically sedated, treated and then released; however, when they are brought to the shelter they are often not sedated.
Ms. Salimbene noted that finding areas to release the cats safely was also part of the issue, because typically the residents who bring in feral cats do not want the cats back on their property, which gives the shelter limited options in areas for the cats to be released.
Another attendee wondered if the community could be educated and possibly be told that they would only receive help if the cat can be returned to where it was. It was suggested that tax dollars be used to help with the issue instead of looking to rescue groups, who are generally non-profit agencies, and that there be a more direct line to the County for help with this issue.
Ms. Salimbene replied that she understood, but tax dollars were not currently available to facilitate that and reminded the group of the rebate program.
An attendee opined that there was an overpopulation of dogs, especially older dogs within Florida, which was why she transported the animals to New England for adoption.
Mr. Fry commented that there had been misconceptions between the north and south concerning which area had more kill shelters and how the transportation of adoptive animals impacted that. He explained that some of the largest issues he had seen were in the north, and he wanted to be careful that generalizations were not being made. He elaborated that the rescue groups in the north who come from kill shelter areas can frown upon animals being transported from the south when they are trying to save animals that live there.
An attendee wondered if there could be a law put in place that states animals must be spayed or neutered if coming from a retail store and that all breeding businesses are licensed. She explained that their rabbit rescue had too many rabbits being surrendered because many places will not spay or neutered them; however, making sure that the animals are spayed or neutered prior to being sold would be helpful. She opined that this would be a way to hold people accountable and could help reduce the number of strays.
Ms. Salimbene responded that they were trying to stop the number of strays being accepted into the shelter by talking with the pet owners first, but if that stopped working the process could be changed.
Mr. Fry commented that he had worked for five years in Minnesota to get a bill passed regarding retail puppy sales, and he offered to share a model of the bill with anyone who was interested in pursuing that within the State of Florida Legislature. He opined that the cruelty issue in retail puppy sales is a larger one than the supply issue. He mentioned that the larger, more statewide issues can be taken on once the shelter is running well for a sustained amount of time. He pointed out that having a no-kill shelter running so well would be a good platform to start those discussions.
Ms. Springsteen-Marks reviewed the new rescue agreement with the rescue groups. She stated that the agreement would give the shelter a base of rescue groups who had agreed to partner and comply with the new processes at the shelter.
An attendee suggested that an email be sent out to inform the groups what dogs were available at the shelter; she asked how the staff intended to bring the public into the shelter when the reputation had not always been a positive one.
Ms. Springsteen-Marks replied that the dogs were listed online at the animal shelter website and that the rescue groups were welcome to visit the facility to see them in person. She noted that she and Ms. Emmil had been working toward doing offsite adoption events, which has helped to get the shelter out into the public as an option to adopt and shows them that it has changed. She noted that she anticipated emails could be automated as things moved forward. She requested that each of the groups consider keeping a kennel or foster space open for one Lake County Animal Shelter pet at all times and asked that they contact shelter management if they felt they could accommodate that.
An attendee asked where sick wildlife that would possibly need to be euthanized could be taken.
Ms. Springsteen-Marks replied that the shelter would refer those individuals with ill wild animals on their property to local wildlife rehabilitation or trapping groups.
Mr. Brian Sheahan, Director of Community Compliance and Safety, responded that there are Sheriff’s animal enforcement officers that can become certified as euthanasia technicians, which would allow them to do that on-site if the animal was extremely ill; however, bringing the sick animal to the shelter exposes the staff, who were hired to handle domestic animals, to disease, and that is not what the shelter’s charter is. He noted that the Florida Wildlife Commission can no longer perform that on-site, but individuals can be referred to licensed trappers.
Commr. Campione commented that the issue lies within the Sheriff’s jurisdiction, but the County staff could facilitate the conversation.
Ms. Springsteen-Marks updated the groups that a registry was being proposed statewide for known animal abusers and that the Sheriff’s Department was enforcing animal cruelty cases well. She commented that she was hopeful that an email listing available pets would be sufficient for the rescue groups. She relayed that rescue groups are able to visit the shelter and notate which dogs they would rescue if not adopted and the fee structure would have changes moving forward. She requested that the groups make an appointment before coming to the shelter, but no one would be turned away. She added that the in-house veterinarian treats minor issues as well as some major issues.
An attendee clarified that rescue groups are unable to bring a dog back to the shelter that exhibits bad behavior not observed in the adoption process, and the dog would have to be examined and euthanized at the expense of the rescue group who adopted it.
Ms. Salimbene responded that once the rescue group takes control of the animal, it is no longer within the animal shelter’s control and becomes the responsibility of the rescue group. She noted that the shelter staff would give all of the information taken and observed on the animal to the rescue groups; however, there are no guarantees that every behavior had been observed.
Another attendee wondered if each of the rescue groups needed to resubmit their paperwork to the shelter.
Ms. Springsteen-Marks stated that all groups did need to resubmit their paperwork for a clean start and pointed out that only authorized people representing the rescue group would be able to take an animal out of the shelter on behalf of that rescue group.
There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the Board, the meeting was adjourned at 8:09 p.m.
TIMOTHY I. SULLIVAN, chairman
NEIL KELLY, CLERK