Ginny Sherlock, renowned local attorney, civic activist, and former Associated Press editor provides an update on the most recent Martin County Domestic Animal Control Task Force meeting: The DAC Task Force discussed the County’s contract with the Humane Society of the Treasure Coast and unanimously recommended that certain conditions be applied by the Board of County Commissioners to any extension or renewal of the HSTC contract which expires on Friday (September 30).
After an amazing and informative presentation about euthanasia by Dr. Sara Mathews, the only veterinarian on the Task Force, the following recommendations were made — and adopted — by the Task Force with respect to conditions to be included in any new or extended contract with HSTC for animal care services in Martin County:
1. Hire an outside, independent team to provide on-site management assistance at the HSTC shelter in Palm City to ensure that proper procedures and practices are being followed to care for animals brought to the shelter by the County’s Animal Control Division or any resident of Martin County. (This type of assistance can be provided by qualified shelter management consultants from the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Welfare Management Services (www.shelterservices.org), or similar organizations. The Pegasus Foundation has offered to provide financial support for this effort.)
2. Require HSTC to employ at least one full-time veterinarian and place the veterinarian in a management role in running the shelter. (The University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine assessment team that visited the Palm City shelter and issued a report pursuant to a $16,000.00 contract with HSTC recommended that at least two full-time veterinarians be hired by HSTC and be included in the shelter management team. HSTC currently has one part-time veterinarian and several contract veterinarians who provide occasional services. There are no veterinarians on the shelter management team.)
3. Require re-certification of all employees who perform euthanasia at the HSTC shelter on an annual basis to ensure that updated information and training about new procecures and techniques are available. (Euthanasia is currently performed at the HSTC shelter by employees whose only training consists of a 16-hour euthanasia technician course that may have been completed years ago.)
4. Install security cameras in the area of the shelter where euthanasia is performed and make sure that the cameras are fully operable and recording to a server or other system that does not allow for inadvertent erasure.
5. Implemnent a TNR program to encourage reduction in the feral cat population. (Martin County established a pilot program for Trap-Neuter/Spay-Release which was conducted for the past five years by Caring Fields Felines, Inc., in conjunction with HSTC. The program has been renewed until July 2017, to allow for expansion and additional services once it has been determined whether spay-neuter services can be managed and provided in a high-volume and efficient manner that was not available from HSTC.)
6. Allow Animal Control Officers to take animals to other impoundment facilities if, in the opinion of an officer, the animal would be more suitably surrendered to a private shelter or rescue facility than HSTC. (The current contract makes HSTC the exclusive animal impoundment facility in Martin County, requiring Animal Control Officers to take all animals to HSTC even when it is almost certain the animals will be euthanized rather than treated and placed for adoption.)
7. Require HSTC to file monthly reports of disposition of all animals surrendered to the organization as required by state law.
8. Require that all animals be fully sedated before euthanasia is performed and prohibit the use of “heart stick” (cardiac injection) in any instance.
DAC Task Force members engaged in a spirited and thorough discussion of the recommendations, including concerns about potential costs of implementation. It was agreed that HSTC should be able to absorb what appear to be minimal costs for the proposed changes within the $560,000-a-year contract.
It was also suggested that if the HSTC contract is extended or renewed, there should be better enforcement of existing terms and conditions, such as the requirement that the shelter provide adequate flea control and preventive care such as heartworm prevention.
Sgt. Patrick Colasuonno, head of the Sheriff’s Animal Control Division, gave a brief presentation about policies and procedures that are observed by the civilian supervisor and five Animal Control Officers who are responsible for trapping, catching, and impounding stray, abandoned, feral, injured, or rabid animals throughout the County.
A number of issues were addressed by members of the public, including Dr. Julie Kittams, a former contract veterinarian at the HSTC shelter who brought many concerns about HSTC shelter operations to light early this year, and Adrianna Carroll, who spoke on behalf of the Pegasus Foundation. Dr. Kittams pointed out the well-documented relationship between animal cruelty and people cruelty which mandates prompt and effective efforts to stop animal cruelty and neglect.
As with previous meetings, many members of the public were in the chamber to support the work of the Task Force.
Staff advised the Task Force that the County Clerk’s audit of the HSTC contract has been completed and is being reviewed by the County Administrator and staff members prior to release. Assistant Administrator David Graham said the audit contains no major or onerous conclusions but notes that some reports have not been properly completed by either HSTC or the County and some other financial discrepencies need to be explained.
During the meeting, County Attorney Mike Durham reported that the HSTC Board of Directors met yesterday and agreed to extend their contract with the County for three months, from October 1 through December 31, 2016, with the hope that a new contract can be negotiated before January 1, 2017.
The matter will be presented to the Board of County Commissioners for approval. Members of the Task Force agreed that at least some if not all of their recommendations should be implemented with respect to even a short-term extension of the HSTC contract, including immediate cessation of euthanasia by heart stick, installation of security cameras in the euthanasia area, and the hiring of an on-site management consultant.
The Board of County Commissioners is expected to consider the HSTC contract extension during the October 18, 2016, BCC meeting.
The next DAC Task Force meeting will be October 12, 2016, at 1:00 p.m. in Commission chambers.
DAC Task Force members Sally Swartz, Keri Burgess, Joanne Bury, Sara Mathews, and Jeff Kirsch exhibited dedication and commitment today that should make Martin County residents proud. (Task Force member Carl Leveridge was unable to attend today’s meeting.) Animals have a powerful voice in residents, Task Force members and staff who are working together to make Martin County a more humane and compassionate place for all.