Animal vs. Humane Control: Drilling Down Through the Numbers, No Kill Nation on the Horizon
Commissioner Scarlet Frisina ponders the Animal Control/Humane Society Budget.
COLUMBIA COUNTY/ LAKE CITY, FL – Yesterday afternoon at 4:30 pm, the Committee: County Manager Ben Scott, Asst. Cnty. Manger Scott Ward, Commissioner Scarlet Frisina, Humane Society President Todd Sampson, and Animal Shelter/Humane Society Executive Director Laura Page, had their first sit down to drill through Animal Control/Humane Society financials; compare notes; and come up with funding figures to continue animal control in Columbia County. Thirty-eight minutes into the meeting, the 800lb gorilla in the next room was discussed: No Kill Nation.
Columbia County is a rural North Florida County that until the wizards in Tallahassee, led by the lobbying group the Florida League of Cities, reclassified it as a Rural Area of Opportunity, was a RACEC Community. RACEC: Rural Area of Critical Economic Concern.
A RACEC community is a community that is under-educated; under-employed; has low household income; depressed economic activity; a lack of business competitiveness; and areas of persistent poverty.
Humane Society President, Todd Sampson, makes a budget point.
For decades, Columbia County officials turned a blind eye as folks that dropped their pets, strays, and rescued animals off at the animal shelter were misled into thinking that their animals were going to be adopted, while in the shadows, they were euthanized, bagged, and dumped at the County landfill in record numbers. So many animals were destroyed that Columbia County led the state in euthanized animals and until recently, continued to hold that distinction.
Former County Manager Dale Williams and the County Commission, which was aware of the extraordinarily high kill rate, never reported these numbers to the public.
In 2014, a change in management at the Animal Shelter, which is run by the Lake City Humane Society, changed that.
The primary issue confronting Columbia County and Lake City is the funding of animal control.
Years of friction and occasional outright warfare between Columbia County and its County seat, the city of Lake City, have led to a divide and conquer modus operandi, in which rather than the City and the County working out its differences and coming up with a funding scheme through an interlocal agreement, the Humane Society has been hashing out separate agreements with both the City and the County.
Yesterday afternoon, the County and the Humane Society sat down at the table. The County did not invite the City to attend.
County Manager Ben Scott listens to Mr. Sampson review the budget.
The meeting was 1hr 54 minutes. After the first 30 minutes, in which County Manager Ben Scott and Humane Society President, Todd Sampson went over the Animal Shelter/Humane Society budget, there was little substantive discussion.
Early on, Mr. Scott addressed what he saw as the predominant issue: "If I'm answering John Q. Public that asks, 'You have a contract to provide the service to these people. Why would you give them more than the contract?' What you're saying is our prior administration did not know what they were doing; didn't properly account for expenses."
Mr. Sampson answered, "I'll agree with that."
Ms. Page added, "We've been saying that all along."
Mr. Sampson followed up, "From the very beginning, which is why there is different leadership now. We have to have accountability. We can't have a leadership team that makes a decision and the board is not involved, which is what happened previously. They signed a contract that was never approved or voted on by our board; I would not have voted to approve it, because anybody that can read financials knows that we are losing money."
Commissioner Frisina wanted to know where the shelter got its animals.
Mr. Sampson answered, "The majority of them, Fort White. The lion's share is coming from the south part of the county. We need a full time person down there all the time."
Mr. Sampson asked, "You've heard about No Kill Nation? They proposed a law that would end euthanasia for any healthy animal in any shelter in Florida. They have money. They will get this passed."
Mr. Sampson said that this will have to be addressed in any future contract between the County and the Animal Shelter.
Mr. Sampson gave a further explanation. "The Florida Animal Control Association is fighting it. Here's the problem. Florida Animal Control Association is very little. No Kill Nation is national and multi-millions. Eventually this will pass. I think we're getting closer to it."
Assist. Cnty Manager Scott Ward
County Manager Scott and others toured some other county's shelters. The County did not obtain intake numbers. Mr. Scott pointed out that prisoners were involved with many of the shelters.
In Columbia County, if a prison population was charged with maintaining aspects of the shelter, they would have to be supervised by an armed guard. Ms. Page said that this would not be good for public relations.
As the meeting drew to a conclusion, Asst. County Manager Ward asked about reinstating the use of the outdoor cages in Fort White for drop-off and containment.
Ms. Page explained that the animals were poisoned, tortured, stolen as bait for fighting dogs, and this was really a bad idea which came from bygone days.
Lake City Humane Society, a private nonprofit organization, was formed in late 1964 to address animal welfare issues in our community. There was no animal shelter, and little attention was paid to the hundreds, if not thousands of animals that were picked up off the streets and killed if no one came to claim them.One city employee – the “dog catcher” was hired to catch and dispose of stray and unclaimed dogs in our area.