Animal shelter to lower adoption fees

OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee Animal Control will reduce adoption fees in an attempt to place more shelter animals in adoptive homes, under an agreement reached July 6 at the regular meeting of the Okeechobee County Board of County Commissioners.

The adoption fees for dogs will drop from $115 to $75. The adoption fees for cats will drop from $100 to $50.

“About two weeks ago, we hit social media,” said Sheriff Noel Stephen. “One of our rescue folks thought they were helping us out, and kind of hit the panic button.”

The social media publicity spread to coastal television news, who reported there was a “code red” at the shelter and that unless animals were adopted, they would be euthanized.

Some TV reports even showed photos of animals at the shelter, giving the false impression that these particular dogs would be euthanized if adoptive homes were not found.

The story that spread through social media gave the false impression that the shelter was not trying to find adoptive homes for the animals, the sheriff explained. In reality the shelter, which comes under the supervision of the sheriff’s office, works with area animal rescues to minimize the number of animals that have to be euthanized. He said the shelter also hosts spay and neuter days to reduce the number of unwanted puppies and kittens.

Currently the operation is run by OCSO Deputy Sergeant Arlene Durbin, the sheriff said.

“She has a staff of five people who take care of the operations 24-7 at the facilities.”

The facility has space for 32 dogs — with 28 regular kennels and four quarantine kennels — and room for 40 cats, including eight quarantine cages.

The sheriff said one problem is the facility is simply not large enough to hold all the animals that are picked up by animal control officers and brought in by the community.

He said they would like to expand the facility by building new kennels, moving the animal population into that space and then renovating the existing space. The sheriff said they have done a lot of work to improve the current facility, but it needs to be sandblasted, pressure cleaned and painted.

The adoptions and placements with other rescues do not keep up with the volume of animals coming into the shelter, he said.

For example, in May, animal control collected 49 dogs and 277 feral cats, he said.

The sheriff said about 10 percent of the animals must be euthanized because they are sick, seriously hurt or “too mean to adopt.”

The sheriff said they often keep animals longer than required by the law.

He said over the past year, animal control has worked with other rescue facilities to offer a spay and neuter program so county residents can bring their pets in to be spayed or neutered. He said this will help to reduce the overpopulation of unwanted dogs and cats.

That program has been very popular over last year, the sheriff added. He said all of the available spay and neuter appointments have been filled every time they offer the program.

In May, with 326 animals coming in, the shelter found placement for 150 animals through adoptions and placement with other rescues. Of that total, 21 animals were adopted and 97 went to other rescues.

Probably 50 percent of animals are brought in by residents of the county, the sheriff continued.

“For example, a mama cat has a litter of kittens and they bring in the whole litter. Or a dog grows up, is no longer a puppy, and they can no longer pay for the food for that dog,” he explained.

In May, 21 animals were adopted, 97 were turned over to other rescues.

The sheriff said the animal control shelter adoption fees have been $115 for a dog and $100 for a cat. He said that includes spay or neuter, shots, microchipping and other veterinary care. For example, the feline AIDS leukemia test costs $13.80 per animal.

He said the county shelter fees are lower than the fees charged by Okeechobee Humane Society/Pet Rescue. While the county shelter is funded by the county, the Humane Society shelter operates on donations. The Humane Society shelter is a “no kill” shelter, while the county shelter does euthanize animals.

He said he thought they could increase the number of adoptions if they lower the adoption fees.

“The cost that it takes to adopt a dog is really what turns many people off. To give up $100 of your budgeted money is hard to do,” he said.

He said since taking over the shelter, the sheriff’s office has been able to reduce the number of animals euthanized. He said there is a monetary cost connected with euthanizing animals as well as the emotional cost to the shelter staff.

“Feral cats continue to be our biggest problem,” he said.

In addition to suggesting lower the adoption fees, the sheriff said they have been researching options for dealing with the feral cat problems in certain areas of the county.

He said some counties collect feral cats, spay or neuter them, and then release them back into the feral cat population.

“I have a concern with that,” said Commissioner David Hazellief. “Every time you are in the woods you see a feral cat. They are all over the county. And the feral cats are upsetting the balance of our wildlife. I would have a concern with turning them back out.”

The county commissioners expressed support for the sheriff’s office operation of the shelter.

“Since the sheriff’s office has taken over animal control, I have heard nothing but good results,” he said.

County Commissioner Kelly Owens said they will need at least a year’s experience to determine if lowering the fees has a significant effect on the number of adoptions.

“At the reduced rate, we’re taking a little bit of a hit, but in the long run will save money on the cost of keeping the dog,” said the sheriff. He said the cost of feeding and caring for the animals adds up.

He said fees of $75 for dogs and $50 for cats will be close to the ‘break even’ point on the average veterinary costs.

Commissioner Bradley Goodbread said there is a social cost too for the people who have to euthanize the animals.

“I wouldn’t have a problem with having a 50 percent off week when the shelter is getting full,” he said.

“The main objective is not to euthanize the animals, but to get them healthy and adopted into a home,” said the sheriff.

The sheriff said some of the animal rescue organizations donate money to the shelter to pay for veterinary care for injured animals so that money does not come from the tax payers. The sheriff offered to share the monthly reports from the animal control shelter with the county commission.

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