Levy officials, animal advocates discuss no-kill objectives at annual summit

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By Fred Allen

More than 20 Levy County animal rescuers and activists met with Levy County Commissioner Lilly Rooks and Animal Services Director David Weatherford during a break in the day-long 2017 North Central Florida Animal Welfare Summit Oct. 27 in Gainesville.

The event was hosted by the Alachua County Humane Society. There were over 40 attendees representing Alachua, Levy, Marion, Suwannee and Columbia counties. The speakers included Dr. Julie Levy, a nationally-renowned researcher and University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine Professor, and Ed Williams, director of Alachua County Animal Services.

The event agenda included reviewing the status of objectives set at last year’s summit, Strategic Discussions and Action Planning for the purpose of reducing euthanasia deaths of healthy and treatable cats and dogs in the region’s municipal shelters.

Trap, Neuter-Spay, Return (TNR) of community (feral and abandoned) cats was one of the top subjects discussed. Cats represent 90 percent of all animals euthanized at the Levy County Animal shelter, with 453 cats being killed since the beginning of this year. Also, this year, 52 dogs received by the shelter were euthanized, usually due to health or aggressive behavior. The vast majority of the cats euthanized were deemed to be feral and unadoptable. Weatherford attributes the high incidence of community cat intake to specific areas of the county. The group
discussed solutions to reducing the community cat population and high euthanasia rate.

During the general session of the Summit, Director Ed Williams outlined the savings to the taxpayers in reducing euthanasia deaths, the cost of shelter employee emotional stress and turnover due to carrying out hundreds of euthanasia procedures.

Studies and actual experience have shown returning sterilized community cats back to the areas from which they came gradually reduces population and new cats do not enter the area while the original cats still inhabit their territory. Nuisance calls drop dramatically because sterilized cats usually do not produce the irritable mating calls. Dr. Levy published a nationally recognized study in 2007, conducting a two year trial in one zip code of Alachua County which historically produced a high shelter intake and euthanasia deaths of community cats. The figures show 2,400 of the estimated 4,500 cats in the area, were trapped, sterilized and returned to the same area from which they came. Shelter euthanasia deaths dropped by 66 percent from intake originating in the test area at the end of the two year study.

Weatherford noted that some community cats received by the Levy shelter are from property owners who do not want the cats back. This poses a challenge that is even more difficult to overcome because there are no viable solutions, as explained by Williams during his presentation.

A county achieves nationally recognized “No Kill” status when it records 12 consecutive months of county-wide shelter live release rate of at least 90%. Duval (Jacksonville) and Brevard County achieved No Kill status, in part due to successful long term Trap-Neuter-Return programs. Alachua, Lake and other Florida counties are on the verge of achieving No Kill status. Levy County is currently above 90% live release rate for dogs. As one Summit event speaker summarized, “we have been killing cats for one hundred years and it is not working.”

Animal advocates and rescuers have worked tirelessly to spay/neuter and find new homes for animals throughout Levy County. As pointed out during Friday’s summit, a targeted approach to areas that produce high shelter intake is critical to have an effective reduction in euthanasia deaths.

One possible solution is a private donor or a public-private partnership acquire a mobile spay/neuter vehicle to travel to low income areas generating high community cat intake and provide low cost or free surgical procedures to residents who cannot travel to area veterinarians
or cannot afford the usual rates. No Kill lowers the expenditure of tax dollars to kill animals and lowers the negative impact on people.

Levy County shelter intake and disposition computerized statistics are available by emailing a request to AnimalServices@LevyCounty.org