NEW PORT RICHEY — In just two years, Pasco County has nearly reached its goal to save 90 percent of animals housed at the county’s animal shelter.
Animal Services Director Mike Shumate told county commissioners during a workshop Tuesday the shelter had an 80-percent “live release rate” for the first six months of 2014. That number includes dogs and cats that are adopted, rescued or reunited with their owners.
“Our kill rate, based on the county population, is one of the lowest in the state of Florida,” he said. “What’s been done in such a short time is pretty phenomenal.”
For comparison, in 2010 the shelter’s live release rate was just 22 percent. More than 7,000 animals were euthanized that year. This year it’s projected to be 628.
“The numbers in that chart are phenomenal,” Commission Chairman Jack Mariano said.
Commissioners adopted the “Save 90” plan in 2012 but it couldn’t be fully implemented until last year, after the county raised dog license fees to pay the added cost of housing and caring for so many more animals. Shumate outlined a number of improvements the shelter had launched to improve the quality of life for the animals, such as starting doggie play groups, buying higher quality food and new bedding, allowing more people to foster animals and even playing classical music in the adoption center.
“It calms the dogs down,” Shumate said. “Our staff in the building C plays country music. They swear the Florida dogs prefer it.”
But other changes will cost money, so Shumate said he will ask commissioners to consider requiring cat owners to license their pets. He estimates county residents have more than 115,000 pet cats, and there could be another 100,000 feral cats in the county.
“I’m pretty serious about it,” Shumate said. “We’re the only county in the region that doesn’t require cat licensing. One aspect of that is dog licenses are paying for our trap-neuter-release program, which is going really well. Who better to pay for that than the cat people?”
County residents pay $10 per year to license their dogs, or $35 if the dog isn’t spayed or neutered.
The revenue from cat licenses would allow Animal Services to expand the operating hours at the adoption center. The shelter closes at 4:30 p.m. on most weekdays and on Saturdays. Shumate said he wants to open the shelter on Sundays and to stay open later on Saturdays and weekdays.
“If we’re going to do that, we’re going to have to increase staffing levels,” he said.