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The Villages
Friday, October 15, 2021

Sumter County struggling with growing population at animal shelter

The number of animals at the Sumter County shelter is growing and officials are looking at several initiatives to ease the burden.

A public hearing is scheduled Oct. 12 on a proposal to extend the county’s trap, neuter/spay, vaccinate and release program for stray cats to all healthy cats.

Another public hearing is scheduled the same day on a plan to adjust the length of stay at the shelter for animals that are tagged or micro-chipped and those that are not.

County Attorney Jennifer Rey also will review a new Florida statute that allows counties to seek relief for housing neglected or mistreated animals.

Nearly 200 animals were at the shelter as of last week. The average length of stay has risen to 12.79 days as of last month from 3.09 days three years ago. The adoption rate has increased, but transfers to rescue organizations are down.

County Administrator Bradley Arnold said animals held for law enforcement investigations, including owners charged with mistreatment or neglect, are a particular problem. Dogs and cats often stay more than 200 days on judicial holds. The new statute could provide a way for the county to address this issue.

In March, commissioners rejected a plan to contract with a private vendor to house these animals.

Commissioners voted last December to designate the animal shelter as no-kill, which means animals no longer are killed to make room for other animals. Sick and aggressive animals still are euthanized.

Since 2018, the county has kept the number of euthanized animals to about 10 percent of the population.

Extending the trap and release program to all healthy cats could help reduce the number in the shelter. In August, there were more than 70 cats held for less than 60 days. Fewer than 2 percent of the cats without microchips were reunited with their owners.

The proposal to adjust the length of stay would ensure animals greater than five months old with a Sumter County license tag, tattoo or microchip would be held at least five days. Other dogs would be held for three days and there would be no minimum stay for stray cats, who are returned to their neighborhoods after they are neutered or spayed and vaccinated.

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