Sumter Commission OKs 90% live-release rate plan but stops short of creating no-kill shelter

After nearly two years of pressure from animal activists to establish a no-kill shelter, the Sumter County Board of Commissioners instead approved a resolution Tuesday night that pledges to retain the county’s open admissions shelter and try to meet the goal of live releases for 90 percent of the cats and dogs it receives.

Commissioners also heard about a separate issue involving a family with 18 noisy dogs.

The 90 percent live-release rate is the standard for no-kill shelters. When no-kill shelters are full, however, they refuse new admissions until space becomes available.

An open admissions policy means the county will not refuse to take animals and could create space through euthanasia or increasing adoptions.

Board chairman Don Burgess said the resolution is significant.

“I think it’s one of the important things we were dealing with for the last couple of years,” he said.

The resolution states that achieving the 90 percent live-release rate “hinges on coordination with verified rescue organizations and not-for-profit no-kill shelters for the transfers of adoptable cats and dogs and free adoptions directly from Sumter County Animal Services.”

One animal activist attended the meeting but did not comment on the resolution.

Sumter County has made significant improvements in its shelter operation since the animal activists began attending meetings in late summer of 2017. In July 2017, the shelter euthanized 89 cats and dogs, about 43 percent of the animals it received. Now, the goal is 10 percent, which the shelter has achieved repeatedly over the past year.

Four years ago, the county became partners with the Humane Society/SPCA of Sumter County – now known as Your Humane Society SPCA – to handle adoptions. More than 1,000 animals are adopted annually through the partnership.

A trap-neuter-release program for feral cats began in January 2018, which meant a sharp reduction in the number of cats killed at the shelter. The county also contracted with a local veterinarian to neuter the cats and provide other services to shelter animals.

Despite the improvements, the animal activists continued to hound commissioners, sometimes showing up in force at meetings. On a few occasions, they became rowdy, shouting at and berating the commissioners. Besides a no-kill shelter, they also demanded that the county allow volunteers to help in the shelter, which commissioners refused.

The confrontations became so bad that a year ago, the county’s attorney threatened to file a defamation lawsuit unless activists removed derogatory comments about commissioners from their Facebook pages.

On Tuesday night, commissioners also heard about a different kind of animal issue.

Marty Thomas, who recently built a home on County Road D in Oxford, said his neighbor has 18 dogs who bark incessantly whenever the neighbor or his family leave their home.

Commissioner Doug Gilpin said he has heard the barking dogs and encouraged Thomas to come to the meeting.

The sheriff’s office has investigated the neighbor, who Arnold said does not appear to be violating the law.

“There’s nothing in the code that prohibits a property owner from having that many dogs,” he said. “They are providing for the dogs and are not selling them.”

Burgess said commissioners could discuss the issue at a workshop and decide if an ordinance change is needed.