By a pair of narrow 3-2 votes, Sumter County commissioners Tuesday night approved changes to animal shelter procedures designed to reduce the shelter population.
The first change would set stays at five days for chipped, tagged or collared animals and three days for unidentified animals before they would be transferred to an adoption or rescue organization.
The second change would treat all healthy cats picked up the same as feral cats. They would be neutered, vaccinated and released back into the neighborhoods where they were found.
Commissioner Oren Miller said the timetable for stays is too short for owners to retrieve their lost pets.
“I’m absolutely against this,” he said. “It’s not fair to the animals, it’s not fair to the people.”
Joining him in opposition was Commissioner Doug Gilpin.
“I don’t like this myself but the answer to all of this is responsible pet ownership,” he said. “If you are responsible pet owner, you don’t have issues.”
Last December, commissioners voted to establish a no-kill shelter so animals are euthanized only if they are aggressive or very ill.
“We have an overflow of animal shelters all through the state,” said Commissioner Gary Search, who supported the change. “These pets do not belong in an animal shelter. We want to get them out to people who love them.”
Gilpin and Miller also voted against the change for cats. County Chairman Garry Breeden, Commissioner Craig Estep and Search voted in favor of both proposals.
During public hearings, Villager Angie Fox said the stay guidelines do not give owners enough time to retrieve their animals.
“I’m asking you please to not do this,” said Fox, who is Miller’s wife and a longtime activist with lost pet organizations. “Other counties don’t do this.”
Villager Marilyn Iskra criticized Fox for opposing the stay guidelines because they are among recommendations for running animal shelters.
But Iskra said she opposed treating all stray cats the same as feral cats because domesticated cats lack survival skills and could be killed by coyotes, cars or starvation after they are released.
“Treating healthy cats the same as feral cats is inhumane,” she said. “Many will suffer a slow and agonizing death.”