From a recent letter by Ginny Sherlock, renowned local attorney, civic activist, and former Associated Press editor, to the Martin County Board of County Commissioners, the County Administrator and the County Attorney:
In less than two weeks, lost, abandoned or stray animals will have nowhere to go in Martin County.
The Humane Society of the Treasure Coast is allowing its $560,000-a-year contract with Martin County to expire September 30. HSTC has not expressed interest in extending or renewing the contract and has already started to repudiate it by notifying volunteers last week that they are no longer to accept animals other than dogs and cats at the Palm City shelter and by telling residents who want to surrender cats to wait a few weeks and then call back. The existing contract requires HSTC to accept all animals brought to the Palm City shelter by Animal Control officers or by any resident of Martin County except animals classified as “livestock”.
Nearly two months ago, on July 25, the County asked HSTC to consider extending the contract on a month-to-month basis until issues raised by the public regarding management of the HSTC shelter in Palm City are resolved. In anticipation of the expiration of the contract, County staff scheduled an agenda item for the Board of County Commissioners meeting this Tuesday, September 20, and the County Attorney began drafting an extension agreement.
But staff has now asked the Commission to cancel the agenda item because HSTC is unable or unwilling to discuss its animal care contract at this time.
If Commissioners agree to pull the item off Tuesday’s agenda, there will be serious consequences for Martin County animals. Commissioners cannot ignore the urgent need for animal care services when the HSTC contract expires.
Members of the public have complained that the HSTC shelter has a high rate of euthanasia for healthy, adoptable, or treatable animals and that basic care such as flea protection and heartworm prevention are not provided. Some animal rescue organizations are unable to save animals from the HSTC shelter because they require expensive veterinary treatment, often for illnesses contracted at the shelter such as kennel cough or injuries caused by the stress of confinement.
Under the existing contract, HSTC receives more than $46,000-a-month from Martin County taxpayers to care for abandoned and stray animals. A County audit of the HSTC contract has recently been completed, with results to be made public soon.
The BCC established a Domestic Animal Control Task Force to review County ordinances, policies, and procedures relating to the care of abandoned and stray animals in response to complaints about the HSTC shelter, but Task Force members were not appointed until recently and conducted their first meeting only this month. The Task Force has not had time to review the HSTC contract; however, members expressed hope that a short-term or month-to-month extension of the existing contract would be agreed upon to continue to provide a place for animals pending resolution of the issues raised regarding shelter management.
But HSTC has refused to engage in discussions with the County or the community and has shown no interest in addressing the urgent need for animal care.
If the BCC refuses to discuss the matter at Tuesday’s meeting, what happens to abandoned, feral and stray animals in Martin County after September 30?
There will not be another BCC meeting until October 4. In the meantime, Commissioners must consider alternatives to the HSTC contract. Several non-profit organizations — Caring Fields Felines, Nala’s New Life Rescue, Domino’s House, Furry Friends — have expressed willingness to provide animal care services. Commissioners should discuss these alternatives on Tuesday and make arrangements to ensure care and shelter for abandoned animals starting October 1. Funds have been allocated in the County budget for this purpose.
Even the harshest critics of HSTC recognize the value of the Palm City shelter and the dedication and commitment of volunteers and many employees. But a professional shelter management team is required to ensure the highest and best use of the facility and a truly compassionate and humane environment for the animals. So long as HSTC remains unwilling to reach out to rescue organizations, the County, and members of the community to cooperate in doing what’s right for the animals, the BCC will have to find other providers for these services.