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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake City/Columbia County Humane Society Looking for Humanity and Funding


COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL –  For decades, Lake City/Columbia County Humane Society/animal control has been underfunded, out of sight and out of mind, and was a killing field which sent more dead dogs and cats to the dump in plastic garbage bags (per capita) than any other county in Florida except for one. In 2013, before the present executive director and crew took over, the Animal Shelter euthanized 73% of the animals coming through its doors. In 2015 the number was reduced to 34% and this year the percentage is falling. If the City and the County don't come up with additional funding soon, the Shelter will go under.

Facts

According to figures released by the Animal Shelter, Columbia County represents 67% of intake and calls at the shelter. The 2016 County Animal Services budget is $259,080. Five years ago, the budget was $230,850, representing an increase of 2% a year. The Humane Society, the folks that run the Shelter, estimate that the County is underfunding Animal Services by approximately $66,000 per year.

Lake City represents 33% of all intake and calls at the Shelter. In 2016, Lake City budgeted $60,000 for animal control, which was a reduction of $10,000 from 2015. The Humane Society estimates Lake City underfunds its portion of Animal Services by approximately $105,000 per year.

The Animal Shelter has been feeding its animals with donated food and has said this is not a "feasible long term solution."


Humane Society Ex. Dir. Laura Page listens on Thursday night.

Most of the employees at the Shelter do not make a living wage and are paid the minimum wage without any benefits, including health insurance.

Executive Director, Laura Page, told the Observer, "Columbia County and Lake City funding does not cover the minimum payroll required to perform the duties expected of the Animal Shelter. Our employees, who we consider team members, do not receive any benefits besides doing something they love."

There have been continuing shortfalls to pay for preventative vaccinations. Ms. Page told the Observer, "This year we were lucky when we received a donation of short-dated vaccines."

Goals and Objectives of the Animal Shelter

Ex. Dir. Page told the Observer that the Humane Society/Animal Shelter had three main goals and objectives:

•  Protect citizens from nuisance and dangerous companion animals to assure citizen health, safety and welfare.

• Enforcement of Florida Statute 828.12 Cruelty to animals.

• Assure compliance with Florida Statue 828.30 Rabies vaccination of dogs, cats, and ferrets.

2013 Analysis by UF College of Veterinary Medicine:
Columbia County Falls Short

By a large margin, Columbia County experienced the highest animal intake in comparison to counties of similar size and demographics: 92.9 animals per 1,000 residents, while at the same time the County experienced the third lowest live release rate of those same counties.

Columbia County euthanized the second highest percentage of animals in the state, 73% or 67.9 per 1,000 residents, while budgeting the least amount of dollars for Animal Services in comparison to counties deemed similar in size and demographics.

New Leadership is Bringing Change:
"We are doing the humane approach"

During the past couple of years the executive leadership and Humane Society officers and directors were replaced by a new team. This team has reduced euthanasia from 4,585 (73%) in 2013 to 1,462 in 2015 (34%), while at the same time Shelter intake was reduced 32% from 6,275 in 2013 to 4,284 in 2015 by applying Shelter Safety Net principles which has increased adoptions 76% from 650 in 2014 to 1,144 in 2015. Read more about Animal Shelter Safety Net Principles: Weaving a Grassroots Safety Net for Homeless Animals.


30 year+ Board member Laura Hunter addressed the County 5 on Thursday.

Long time Lake City Humane Society director, Laura Hunter, told the Observer, "Before Laura Page came we never chipped or vaccinated. We always had a sick shelter. Since Laura's come all our animals are spayed-neutered before they go out. They are checked and vaccinated. We keep them and we work hard to find them homes. Last weekend she took 30 dogs down to South Florida to an adoption. We don't keep the little dogs at the shelter. We send them to homes. They bring them to a Pet Smart to get them adopted. It's a different approach to sheltering -- what we are doing now. We are doing the humane approach."

Thursday Night at The 5

Last Thursday, the County 5 saw a packed house of folks supporting the new team at the Animal Shelter. The Shelter folks came to ask for funding, explaining that without it, they would have to shut down the operation in a few months.

Ex. Dir. Page told The 5, "The absence of licensing prevents enforcement to assure Columbia County citizens safety from rabies."

Speaker after speaker came to the microphone to voice support for the new Animal Shelter team, its goals and objectives, and its Executive Director, Laura Page.

After all the talking, most of which points were covered earlier in the article, long time County Commissioner, Ronald Williams, told The 5, "I don't know a lot about the new methods of dealing with animals. I thought it was the craziest thing in the world to fix them and turn them loose. After it was explained to me it made sense. If a cat is fixed and turned back into the wild it don't reproduce. At first it didn't make sense to me. It makes sense now. We have to do somethin' to fix the problem."

Commissioner Williams also pointed out that he didn't want the County back in the animal control business.


The Columbia County 5 from left to right: Commissioners Ronald Williams;
Rusty DePratter; Bucky Nash; Everett Phillips; Scarlet Frisina

"My Daughter Will Kill Me if I Don't do the Right Thing"

Board Chairman, Sylvester "Bucky" Nash, said, "We are willin' to help. My daughter will kill me if I don't do the right thing. We have to be responsible."

Mr. Nash then called for the Animal Shelter's finance director, "Financial guy, can you come back up here. Where are you moneywise today? How far can you go?"

Mr. Sampson answered, "We might make it through September, but we might not. If there is any hiccup, we're not going to make it. At that point you all will be in that business."

Mr. Nash followed up, "So you're asking for emergency funding?"


Many of the shelter animals survive on donated food.

Mr. Sampson replied, "That's to keep us open."

Mr. Nash asked, "So when you say if we don't give you emergency funding, you're not going to make it?"

Mr. Sampson responded, "There's going to have to be somewhere for the dogs to go."

Mr. Nash concluded, "Bein' that we started this new relationship. So you said $81,000. My recommendation would be, that's basically for six months -- right? To split that in half and give them $40,500 that would take you through three months. Form a committee that is going to work with the Animal Shelter... We don't have a capital improvement list or a repair list."

Commissioner Rusty DePratter questioned giving money for animals, rather than people. Animals don't vote.

Mr. DePratter said, "I'd like for staff to tell me where the money is coming from. To sit here and spend money that we didn't give out [to people organizations]... I believe in helping the Animal Shelter, but I'd just like to see where it is coming from. I need to be responsible."

County Manager Scott said the money would be coming out of reserves.

The Committee

Chairman Nash named a committee to gather the facts, figures, and issues for the April 21 meeting of The 5. The committee is Todd Sampson and Laura Page of the Animal Shelter/Humane Society; Commissioner Frisina will represent the County 5; and the Scott Bros., County Manager Ben Scott and Assistant County Manager Scott Ward, who are inseparable.

Epilogue

On April 21, the rest of America will see where Columbia County Florida stands on animal control.

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On April 25, 2016, Columbia County resident, Roy Armstrong wrote:

I was at the 7 April meeting of the BOCC when the Board "kicked the can further down the road" when Chairman Nash established a "committee" to discuss the funding shortfall for operating the the County's Animal Control Facility. I am not sure if Chairman Nash was aware of Columbia County Code of Ordinance ANIMAL CONTROL BOARD.

Interesting reading. Does this board still exist? If so, who are the members, when are the meetings, and when was the last report to the BOCC? If this board does NOT exist, is the county in violation of its own ordinance?

I would think the long standing Commissioner Williams should remember approving this ordinance, why wasn't the Chairman advised of its existence?

Bottom line is this. The Lake City Humane Society was contracted to operate the County's Animal Control services using the LCHS's facilities and expertise for the humane treatment of companion animals. Inevitably, the County is responsible for protecting its citizens through Animal Control as outline in the County's own ordinances. The Columbia County BOCC can choose to go the humane way, or fall back to doing it cheap way and filling the County landfill with animal carcasses. I believe I know what the constituents would to see happen.

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On April 23, 2016, Beth Barritt of Lake City wrote, in an email to The 5 and Cnty Management:

I attended the County budget meeting on April 21 and have followed the ongoing discussion in regards to the underfunding of the Lake City Animal Control and Humane Society. I had a conversation with Scarlet Frisina and was led down a factually incorrect path. I am circulating a petition among business owners, who not only will be impacted by the Humane Society closing, but are as outraged as I that we have to fight for better treatment of our animals.

As a new resident of Columbia County, I am disheartened by the attitude toward domestic animals. As a taxpayer, I will fight. It never occurred to me before I purchased at The Oaks of Lake City to research how this community treats its animals and the unwillingness of the representatives to alter their ideas. My future move will certainly include this investigation. I cannot continue to support a community who defends the principle that doing things cheaper equals adequate care.

I've been told that a few of you have visited surrounding community shelters as a comparison. I would encourage you to visit some of the communities that have done an outstanding job, not the ones who do the bare minimum. As a community that is trying to be a gateway, it would seem to me you would embrace the ideas of people who know more than you do and are passionate about bettering the circumstances of the animals. What sense does it make to argue about subjects you know very little about? Or better yet, tell constituents completely unsubstantiated “facts."

If you don’t feel this in your hearts, at least think about it in your heads. It's bad business. There are more people than you think who would rather see an updated facility with logical and educated plans for animal control than another road widening, mattress store, or bank.

I absolutely believe there are many residents who would rather see a facility they can visit without feeling sad and feel confident that our officials support humane care of any animal lucky enough to be in Columbia County. I can assure you that the business owners I have spoken to are ashamed of the high kill rate that has always been and want change.

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On April 21, N.L. Vining of Columbia County wrote:

Some of our County Commissioners are rather set in their ways and if they feel that just because animals don't vote and people do - they are excused from addressing a county wide problem regarding stray animals and vaccinating against Rabies in our area, let me state that they need to take a second and harder look at the problem.

When we had a problem with a neighbor's dogs coming onto our fenced property and threatening livestock, we had to resort to law enforcement for help, since the local Animal Control was often too late to observe the situation or take corrective action.
Columbia County is growing and we need services that grow with the population.

Rather than look askance at the primitive stance taken by the decision makers in local government, it would be nice to see them get on board and continue to make it possible for the Shelter to take care of strays, spay or neuter feral animals, and put a halt to abused pets.

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On April 12, 2016, Robin of Columbia County wrote:

I have lived in Columbia County for over 7 years. I was shocked at how backwards this county was when it came to animals.  Alachua County has done an amazing job. Once Laura Pager took over I was so pleased to see it finally on the right track. When I read the comment that animals don't vote, people do, I was surprised.  Yes many of us people love are animals and I vote in every election and research their views on animals.  I live here so my animals can have more land and a better life. Some funding money could be raised by requiring rabies tags. I buy mine through Alachua County.  Please have forward thinking and do right by the animals who have no voice of their own.

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On April 11, 2016, a reader from Tampa wrote:

Columbia County has sunken to a new low. Their hesitation to scoop a fraction of dollars from their sea of cash toward the humane treatment of animals speaks volumes about the kind of people who represent the community.

Chickens? We eat those so give them anything they want. But a dog or cat that is turned out onto the street or were born to die due to neglect? Why they don't vote, do they Mr. DePratter? But don't forget that all the folks who are so dedicated to the care of these pets left behind do. They also talk to other folks who love animals who will remember the cold, uncaring attitude toward the quality and outcome of abandoned and mistreated animal lives who won't provide a profit of some kind to you. The people who donate unselfishly to keep them healthy and alive also vote.

You donated millions to private enterprise between cash and abatements. How about showing your constituents your heart is made of something more than a gold plated dollar sign?

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On April 10, 2016, Laura Page wrote:

While we struggle daily with the culture of throw-away pets in this county, and use private funds in the form of grants and donations to create a safety path for each healthy, friendly animal that enters our doors, the funds that we are requesting of the county and the city are the bare minimum to sustain life for four days. The budget that each commissioner, our county manager, and his assistant, were presented is our cost to care for each of the 4,200 stray and confiscated animals that we project we will intake this year.

We are appreciative of our generous donors, veterinary partners and corporate sponsors who help us take each animal past that fourth day, and on to a forever home. Our hope is that one day, our civic leaders will recognize that additional funding for targeted spay/neuter projects and Community Cat projects will ultimately save the county, and city, a significant amount of money by exponentially reducing accidental litters resulting in lower shelter intake. We believe that the only way we will get to No Kill is through No Birth.

Social change isn't easy. However, I believe that our public servants, over the course of the last three months have begun to realize that for decades our county has remained stagnant in issues of sheltering and companion animal welfare. They are serving in a county highly populated with animal lovers, many of whom once made aware of the astronomical euthanasia numbers have begun to fight back.

Animals may not vote. However, those who want their humane treatment absolutely do vote - and in larger numbers than those who do not own animals.

Laura Page, Executive Director Lake City Humane Society

 

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