One of the most frustrating and heart-breaking experiences for animal rescuers happens on a daily basis.
Hundreds of abandoned and neglected animals are dumped at county shelters across the state. As they arrive, their photos quickly go on Facebook - a basket of gray kittens, a litter of Lab pups, a tiny shaking Chihuahua or two sweet-faced hounds.
People share the photos as rescuers scramble to arrange foster homes. The clock ticks down. They beseech shelter workers for “just a little more time.” Then, those awful letters appear under the photos: R.I.P. – dead, destroyed.
For only the second time in Florida, last week the Broward County Commission took the extraordinary step of endorsing a No Kill policy for its county shelters. Broward joins Manatee as the only counties in the state working to save all their unwanted dogs and cats.
Animal advocates around the state let out an exuberant cheer. It is historic news just weeks after the Legislature failed to pass a bill that would have required county shelters to work with rescuers to save animals. Currently, many animals are destroyed even after rescue groups have asked to save them.
It has been discovered that some shelters that market themselves as “no kill” don’t actually follow the policies and procedures that would qualify them. The Humane Society of Pinellas, a non-profit shelter, recently abandoned “no-kill” on it’s website after volunteers complained, and a Tampa Bay Times’ article revealed, that the animals had a 50/50 chance of survival, though many were adoptable.
No Kill communities still euthanize animals when they are sick, for example, but they work hard to keep that number down, with a goal of 10 percent or less. That would be a huge improvement as about 46 percent of the 7,500 dogs and 67 percent of the 9,500 cats that come into the Broward shelter currently are euthanized.
Broward’s action plan will include increasing adoptions, cutting down on uncontrolled animal reproduction through spay and neuter programs for residents, and working with private shelters and rescue groups. Pet owners with disobedient animals will be offered help and counseling and animal control officers will work in neighborhoods to reunite owners with lost pets. Fearful dogs at the shelter, usually the first to be put down, will receive training and medical care.
The measure of Broward’s success is as much about work in the community as it is about the protocols and procedures inside the shelter. By working with the public, implementing lifesaving programs and treating each life as precious, Broward County Animal Care & Adoption will transform the community.
In its unanimous vote this week to work toward the goal of becoming a No Kill Community, the Broward Board of County Commission showed courage, visionary leadership and the willingness to contribute to a positive new paradigm.
At a time when elected officials are making disappointing and selfish decisions, Broward and Manatee counties have shown that finding a common mission such as this one, that utilizes compassion, advocacy and concern for animals, can go a long way to build grassroots trust and confidence in a community.
Formerly a reporter for the St. Petersburg Times and Orlando Sentinel, Susan Clary is a freelance writer who runs a nonprofit animal rescue in Orlando. She can be reached at email@example.com
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