CLEARWATER — An anonymous caller complaining of foul odors tipped off county Animal Services officials about the house in Largo.
Inside, they found more than 50 cats, a violation of city ordinances on pets. The owners last week agreed to surrender almost all the cats to the county.
“The citizen admitted he was overwhelmed and it had gotten out of hand,” said Doug Brightwell, Pinellas County Animal Services field manager. “People get a pair or two and it gets out of hand quickly.”
The cats will be evaluated to see if they can be adopted, but even if healthy, only half of the animals are likely to find a new home. The rest will be euthanized with a lethal injection of sodium pentobarbital.
Animal activists in Pinellas County say the case is a tragic example of why the county should adopt rules requiring owners to spay or neuter their pets.
Throughout this year, the activists have packed public meetings to call on commissioners to take action. Their latest tactic is an online petition calling on commissioners to volunteer in the euthanasia room one day a month. So far they have more than 1,200 signatures.
“Hopefully by witnessing the tragedy first hand, you will be compelled to do something to avert the tragedy,” Andrea Barlow, the animal activist who started the petition, told commissioners at a recent meeting.
The failure of owners to prevent their pets from breeding has serious consequences.
So far this year, animal services has impounded more than 7,000 stray or unwanted cats and more than 4,000 dogs. Almost 4,000 of the cats and more than 1,200 of the dogs were euthanized. That included animals with health or behavioral issues, but also healthy animals no one wanted to adopt.
Commissioners recently agreed to fund a pilot program to trap, neuter, vaccinate and release feral cats. They will also consider an ordinance next month that authorizes animal services to spay or neuter any pet that is impounded more than once in a two-year period and to charge the owners for the expense. Animal services also offers to reduce impound fees by 50 percent if owners agree to spay or neuter their animal.
But commissioners remain wary of making spay and neutering mandatory.
Concerns include a lack of manpower to enforce a law and fear that more owners will keep unlicensed pets and avoid taking them to veterinarians for routine care to avoid detection.
Commissioner Susan Latvala said an ordinance would only be effective if coupled with an education campaign and a plan for how to enforce it. She said she does not need to volunteer in the euthanasia room to know what goes on there.
A spay-and-neutering ordinance could be one of the recommendations of an analysis animal services is conducting. That has included meetings with activists and veterinarians ahead of a commission meeting next year to discuss solutions.
Activists say communities that have adopted such laws, including Volusia County and Las Vegas, have lowered the number of animals euthanized.
The Volusia County program requires the owners of cats or dogs older than six months to have their pet spayed or neutered.
Exceptions are made for owners who show or breed their animals. Law enforcement animals and service dogs also are exempt.