published: Friday, November 30, 2012
A lot of bark, no bite
By BARRY FOSTER
SEBRING -- Commissioners voted Tuesday night to table a measure hammered out by an animal control committee over the past six months after local veterinarian Dr. Mark Griffin told the board that the issue should first have been workshopped by local veterinarians.
"This was just thrown together," he said. "This could have been streamlined better."
Griffin had a number of very direct observations about the ordinance. He called the license tag fee "a tax, plain and simple," saying that reminding people to renew their tags yearly would fall to veterinarians inasmuch as it is they who administer the shots. He also pointed out that no enforcement process was put in place,
"I cannot force people to do this. We can inform the public but it still basically is the honor system," he said.
In fact, Griffin said he himself had not been compliant with the rules as they now are written because currently the only mandate is for licensing dogs.
Commissioner Don Elwell tried repeatedly to determine a cost-benefit analysis of the program, asking how much the department took in each year and how many licenses had been issued. Highlands County Animal Control Department Director Darryl Scott said the revenue was about $50,000 a year, meaning about 10,000 dog licenses had been issued.
"That number may be high," he allowed.
Scott also indicated his department could not enforce vaccination requirements because those are state law.
"This needs a lot of work, there's still a lot of holes in it," said Highlands County Commission Chairman Jack Richie. "This needs to be taken care of in the proper way."
With that, Richie appointed Griffin and activist veterinarian Elton Gissendanner to join with Highlands County Administrator June Fisher and commissioner Ron Handley to form the hub of a committee, charged with bringing all local interested veterinarians together for a workshop session to look at the ordinance and make it operational for the area animal doctors.
After noting that the tag issue was the most troublesome part of the measure, Griffin expressed concern that the work of the animal control committee not be thrown out.
"The committee spent a lot of hours on this deal," he noted.
Richie said the tabled measure should be used as groundwork for the veterinarians to build upon and tweak to make it easy for them to use.
"This is not a failure, it is a beginning," he said, telling the four he wanted them to return with "a finished product."
When the motion was tabled, there was an audible groan of exasperation from a group of two dozen or so animal lovers who had come to weigh in on the ordinance as written and to tell commissioners of what they perceived to be shortcomings in the animal control operation.
Richie assured the group that the veterinarians' committee, like the animal control committee, would operate under Florida 's Government in the Sunshine statutes. That means all committee meetings would be announced and be open to the public. He also assured the group that they would be permitted to address their concerns to the commission when a number of animal control committee recommendations were discussed later in the meeting.
There were eight committee recommendations, some of which were agreed to by consensus of the board, some which will be addressed by the veterinarians' committee. One of the biggest items seemed to be the use of volunteers at the animal control department.
"So far we have had only one volunteer," Fisher said.
Members of the group said they were unaware that volunteer applications were available with several asking for applications at the meeting.
"They must be obtained through our human resources department," Fisher said.
Richie asked that applications also be distributed at animal control and be available on line. It was later suggested that the applications be made available at the Humane Society as well. Many in attendance showed interest in possibly serving as volunteers.
"We look forward to you working a lot of hours with no pay," said Elwell to laughter from the group.
Elwell pointed out that the level of volunteerism might also help negate a recommendation from the committee for an additional caretaker spot in the department.
As to the issue of adoption, Scott told commissioners, "We are a control department, not a rescue department."
A long discussion followed about hold times, periods for adoption and for other dispersal of animals, including euthanasia. Commissioners also discussed differing time frames for documented and undocumented animals that had been rounded up and taken into custody.
In an effort to get publicity out that certain animals were available for adoption, commissioners agreed to shorten times before they would be put on the county web page. Although the hold time was set at five days, Scott told commissioners it was not uncommon to have some animals as long as two weeks, although there were animals that were considered not adoptable due to health issues and personality problems.
The issue of feral cats was turned over to the veterinarians' committee, while no changes were recommended to the euthanasia policy.
Griffin and Gissendanner reportedly now are working to get the veterinarian workshop together to discuss ways to make the ordinance user-friendly while reviewing a number of other provisions. No date for the workshop has yet been established.
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