COLLIER COUNTY — Dozens of dog lovers are demanding more teeth from Collier County Domestic Animal Services when it comes to animal neglect enforcement.
Their outrage erupted at Tuesday night’s advisory board meeting after 45 Labradors and golden retrievers were surrendered by Golden Gate Estates dog breeder Anthony Perkins in July. Veterinarians said the dogs were dehydrated and showed signs of neglect.
One dog was later euthanized and 14 puppies later died of parvovirus, a contagious canine virus.
“We have local ordinances that should have been enforced,” said Kelly Fox, a Collier resident and animal advocate.
About 75 people, many of them wearing buttons or T-shirts with the faces of golden retrievers, attended the 6:30 p.m. meeting. For nearly 15 minutes, the meeting erupted into shouting when public speakers refused to sit down at the request of the council.
They demanded answers on why Perkins was allowed to continue to breed dogs after a record of non-compliance on vaccinations and animal welfare issues.
They called for enforcement of animal control laws from the agency, which they said should have never let Perkins operate as long as he did.
Perkins had more than a dozen visits from animal control officials since 2005 from complaints ranging from selling sick puppies to poor living conditions, according to DAS reports. None of them resulted in a fine or punishment from the agency.
Amanda Townsend, the director of DAS, has said there are limits on what her agency can do to enforce some laws, and there is direction from the Collier County Commission to have a policy of “voluntary compliance” on other animal control ordinances. In a press release addressing Perkins’ dogs, DAS alluded to a “general practice of taking a voluntary-compliance-through-education approach to its enforcement responsibilities.”
The residents at Tuesday’s meeting were not satisfied with that explanation.
“Right now, they have something to enforce and they aren’t doing it,” Fox said.
Some, like Nancy Woodbury, criticized DAS for allowing dogs surrendered by Perkins to be adopted by someone on the county’s “Do Not Adopt” list. Barbara Dunshee of Golden Gate Estates, whose name was on the list, won the right to adopt Willie, an adult golden retriever, in DAS’ lottery.
Willie fled his adopted family before they arrived home, and hasn’t been seen since.
DAS officials did not directly address Woodbury’s concerns, but the agency is considering a revision of its Do Not Adopt policy.
Others demanded to know why Perkins had not been punished.
DAS officials have not ruled out a criminal or civil action against Perkins pending an investigation of the dogs’ medical records.
Mary Ellen Metro, who said she adopted a neglected golden retriever from Perkins in 2004, defied the council when she refused to leave the podium until she finished her story about her dog, Rose.
Others shouted at the council members, challenging them to enforce their board rules.
“I think you need to work with us instead of attacking us,” flustered Councilwoman Marcia Brethaupt told the crowd.
The six attending members of the DAS advisory council — a county-appointed board — largely said they agreed with audience on the need for stepped-up enforcement. Councilman Tom Kepp said DAS right now is failing in its mission.
“We spend money to recognize abuse and neglect,” he said. “Somebody didn’t do their job.”
Kepp complained that although animal control officials could levy fines for violators, there’s no good mechanism for collecting. Kepp encouraged audience members to address their concerns to the Collier County Commission.
DAS officials maintain their hands are tied on issues of enforcement.
Townsend said she has received direction from the County Commission to seek “compliance over enforcement” in these cases. Though Townsend was relentlessly criticized during the meeting, she encouraged public feedback.
“If the community wants to see that change, we will work with you to make that happen with the resources we have,” she said.
Public speaker Bibi Barrett riled up the crowd when she called for whatever action it took to get better enforcement of animal ordinances.
“Gloves are off,” she said to applause. “Let’s fix this.”