Northeast Florida shelters warn that rising numbers of homeless animals force more euthanizations
Margo Moehring was smitten the minute she saw the black, white and brown dog in the city shelter.
"I was in love," Moehring said. "This was the dog. There was something about this dog. I think we made a match."
She and her boyfriend had looked at several other dogs at the shelter run by the city of Jacksonville's Animal Care & Protective Services, but this Catahoula Cur, which she has named Astro after the dog on "The Jetsons," was the one they chose.
"It's just like being in love. I'm nuts," she said. "He is like a new member of the family."
Moehring, managing director of policy and planning at the Northeast Florida Regional Council, said it broke her heart to see so many dogs and cats living in the shelter, waiting for the right person to come along and pick them. She had debated for years on whether to bring a pet into her life and was both excited and saddened when she visited the shelter.
"I had a moment. I teared up. I could only take one home. You want to take all of them home," Moehring said.
Scott Trebatoski, ACPS division chief, would like to see more happy pet owners as his agency partners with the Jacksonville Humane Society and First Coast No More Homeless Pets to push adoptions and foster care for the growing population of cats and dogs at the shelter.
The number of new arrivals — about 100 dogs and cats a day — has renewed fears that more animals might have to be euthanized, delaying the shelter's ultimate goal of becoming a no-kill shelter. To save their lives, these pets need owners or foster parents.
At the city-owned shelter, adoptions have increased 89.5 percent, rising from 2,185 in 2007 to 4,141 in 2012.
For the same five-year period, the number of animals that were euthanized is down 73.6 percent, from 19,189 in 2007 dropping to 5,069 in 2012.
About 31 percent of the animals that entered the shelter last year were euthanized, making it difficult for the city to maintain its goal of saving 90 percent of the animals to be considered a no-kill shelter.
"Over the past few years, we have made great strides in reducing euthanasia in Jacksonville. We still, however, face serious overcrowding issues," Trebatoski said.
"Our goal is to never have to euthanize an adoptable pet, but we need broad community support to reach that goal," he said, adding that about 100 dogs per day enter the shelter, forcing them to put dogs in offices and every reasonable space.
The population of the shelter is cyclical, and more dogs and cats are surrendered to the shelter in late spring and early summer, increasing the chance they'll be euthanized, he said.
He urges people who have to get rid of pets to try to find neighbors or friends to adopt them.
"This is the worst time of year to bring it to the shelter when the chance of survival is down," he said.
Lindsay Layendecker, who teaches English at the Florida Virtual School, donates hours helping at the shelter and is serving as a foster mom for four kittens and a dog.
During her time fostering animals, Layendecker tries to find them good homes so they don't have to return to the shelter.
"I love to foster so much," she said, adding that as soon as she places one foster pet, she's always ready for another.
Layendecker is a member of Friends of Jacksonville Animals, which works directly with the city shelter to assist with the costs of medical care, promote adoptions and reduce euthanasia.
Another key component of the city's animal control efforts is Feral Freedom, a program that picks up feral cats, sometimes known as community cats, sterilizes and vaccinates them, and returns them to the place they were picked up. They are tagged by cuts on their ears.
The program was developed by Rick DuCharme, founder and director of First Coast No More Homeless Pets; he convinced the city not to euthanize healthy, feral cats.
"When he first came to me, I was skeptical," Trebatoski said. "But based on the evidence, it is working."
"We are seeing a 40 percent drop in those cats coming into the shelter," he said.
DuCharme said his organization takes all the cats that come into the shelter, spays or neuters them and places them back where they were first trapped.
Trebatoski said that program has resulted in a big savings for the city, which previously had a policy of euthanizing all feral cats.
DuCharme said there are no good figures on the number of feral cats roaming in the Jacksonville area. Estimates range from 70,000 to 200,000.
"There is a decrease in cats and kittens every year in the shelter and less cat problems," he said.
In 2012, DuCharme's organization performed sterilization procedures on 17,644 cats and 7,430 dogs. It was involved in 2,505 adoptions, said Cameron Moore, program director for First Coast No More Homeless Pets.
The Jacksonville Humane Society, which receives most of its animals for adoption from the city shelter, is looking for 2,013 people to adopt dogs and cats with the hope of winning the ASPCA Rachael Ray $100,000 Challenge, said Denise Deisler, JHS executive director.
It's one of 50 shelters nationwide competing to beat last summer's adoption record. The local humane society had about 1,000 adoptions last summer.
"For us, it is going to be a challenge. Last year in June, July and August, we had phenomenal numbers," Deisler said, noting the winner receives $100,000.
"It is our goal to increase adoptions across the community," she said.
St. Johns County Animal Control and Pet Center have a deal on cats. If you want a kitten or cat, Pet Center is offering a $30 adopt-one-get-one-free deal now. The cost of adopting a dog is $60.
In the past year, St. Johns County received 4,502 animals and had 1,603 adoptions. They euthanized 2,800 animals, including 2,000 cats.
Neither St. Johns County nor Clay County has a TNR program — Trap, Neuter and Release — for feral cats, officials said.
There is a similar situation in Clay County, where 686 feral cats were euthanized in 2012. Through April of this year, Clay County has euthanized 187 feral cats. In 2012, there were 740 dog adoptions and 240 cat adoptions.
In Nassau County, exact figures are not available on its animal control website. In a report for fiscal year 2011-'12, Joseph Novello reported that it reduced the euthanasia rate by 13 percent and live release rate by 13 percent, in addition to creating a feral cat program, which reduced the number of animals being euthanized. o