Sumter County’s live release rate at its animal shelter climbed to 95 percent in November and 96 percent in December.
That means only 5 and 4 percent of the animals brought to the shelter were euthanized. The live release rate was better than the 90 percent goal of no-kill shelters. For all of 2018, the live release rate was 88 percent.
But commissioners still refuse to designate the shelter as no-kill to the chagrin of some animal activists.
Whether Sumter County animal shelter policies save animals or cause more to die was debated Tuesday at a meeting of the county board of commissioners.
During the public forum portion of the meeting, three speakers offered different views of the shelter.
Marilyn Iskra, who said she is a Villages newcomer, thanked commissioners for the shelter’s open admission policy, which offers refuge to all animals. She said no-kill shelters turn animals away if they are full.
Iskra said the Humane Society/SPCA of Sumter County saved 1,786 animals last year. The county has worked with the Humane Society for several years on animal adoptions.
“You should be very proud of their outstanding accomplishments,” Iskra said.
But Angie Fox, of Lost Pets of The Villages, said too many animals still are euthanized to create space for new admissions.
Kathy Bork, of Lady Lake, said animal control officers have told people to release stray animals if they are uninjured.
“They should never tell people to release them,” she said.
Sumter County improved its live release rate after Fox and other animal activists started coming to meetings in the fall of 2017.
A feral cat program that allows them to be vaccinated, spayed or neutered and released back into the community began a year ago and helped reduce the number of cats killed at the shelter.
Iskra said she believes the rhetoric from some animal shelter critics has gone too far.
“I am appalled by the insulting criticisms that some of our citizens are constantly directing toward Sumter County commissioners,” she said. ”These malicious personal attacks can severely undermine everyone’s efforts. What I don’t get is why anyone thinks that painting our commissioners as animal killers is going to help animals get adopted.”
Last year, commissioners threatened to file a defamation lawsuit unless insults were removed from a Facebook page. The material was removed and no lawsuit was filed.
Earlier this month, a campaign was launched in coordination with the local chamber of commerce to raise funds for renovation and improvements at the animal shelter. The upgrades are estimated to cost about $600,000 and the county has agreed to provide up to a $400,000 match. Ishkra pledged to donate $1,000 to the campaign.
Commissioner Doug Gilpin thanked Iskra for her comments. He said the county’s animal services department deals with horses, pigs and fighting chickens, as well as dogs and cats.
“We’re not a kennel and we’re not a shelter,” he said. “We’re an animal services unit.”