COLLIER COUNTY — Last summer 45 neglected dogs were surrendered to Collier County Domestic Animal Services. This summer DAS officials have been working on new regulations to ensure it never happens again.
DAS thinks it is closer to a solution. However, some residents at a standing-room-only DAS advisory board meeting say there is more work to be done.
Last week board members agreed to hold one more public meeting to get input on proposed changes to the county's animal ordinance, proposed standards of care for animals and proposed fines before they send their suggestions to the county commissioners. The next meeting is Thursday, Oct. 4.
"You have all worked so hard and come so far, but I would hate to rush this through when there are so many questions," board member Marjorie Bloom said. "I know we're not going to make everyone happy, but I would like to see some people happy."
But the clock is ticking, DAS officials said. The county commissioners expect the proposed regulations to move forward said Amanda Townsend, executive director of Collier County DAS.
The changes came about after Golden Gate Estates resident Arthur Perkins surrendered 45 dogs to Domestic Animal Services in July 2011. Of those dogs, 14 died of parvovirus and one golden retriever, Willie, disappeared in Golden Gate Estates after DAS adopted him to someone whom they had previously flagged as a person who should not be allowed to adopt.
DAS had been on alert and checking on Perkins' breeding operation since 2005, often reporting open wounds, flea bites and bloody ears on the animals. But on follow-up visits, Perkins' dogs were in better condition and had been properly treated for parasites or sores.
"The community was very upset with DAS and they way everything was handled before the surrender and after," Townsend said.
DAS is proposing several changes, including:
Strengthening existing provisions in the ordinance that allow for permitting of kennels and pet shops by requiring them to hold a business tax receipt that renders services to or for any animal.
Introducing a definition for "breeder" and adding it to the county permitting process.
Allowing the county to advance uncollected citations to county court.
Requiring some people cited by animal control officers to take a responsible pet ownership class.
Establishing the standards of care for all animals to be applied in determining cases of neglect.
Ensuring consistency in the issuance of penalties.
Heather Burch, founder of Brigid's Crossing, a cat sanctuary in Naples, said she worries the new regulations will hurt smaller operations.
"There are a lot of unadoptable cats in this community. We have a lot of volunteers and small organizations that do one heck of a job taking care of them," she said. "They are only trying to do the right thing with the right amount of guidance. ... To disempower a huge group of people will make a difference.
"Do not put them out of business. Do not put them in jail. Don't penalize them for trying to do the right thing."
Michelle Antonia said the standards of care are very ambiguous. Antonia, who runs the Animal Compassion Project, a nonprofit organization that rescues feral cats and abandoned companion animals, said DAS needs to be very specific about what it wants from organizations. She said the new standards of care should not be vague or open to interpretation.
Antonia said she also had issues with certain requirements, including that trapped animals had water. She said it doesn't make sense to put water in a trap with an animal who is scared, will spill it everywhere and who is going to the vet to be spayed or neutered and can't have water before surgery.
"I understand they don't want the animal to be without water, I get that," she said. "They just don't understand because they haven't done it."
Antonia said she is optimistic some of the confusion can be cleared up.
"I think we can all work together to get to the standards of care everyone can live with," she said. "We're making life better for the animals. We are all working for the animals."
DAS Advisory Board member Tom Kepp said he was willing to table the measure to have more discussion, but told those present that he expected them to come to the meeting on Oct. 4. Many board members expressed frustration that these concerns were not brought up as the ordinance and standards were being developed, saying residents chose not to attend meetings until the eleventh hour.
"I expect you to be at the next subcommittee meeting and do this right," Kepp said. "This has taken forever. Let's do it right."
Kelly Hyland, who has attended many of the subcommittee meetings and watched the ordinance get drafted, said giving the public one more say is a good thing.
"We need to make sure that all of the ordinance is worded so it is enforceable," she said. "This is not something to attack people with. This is something to help us with those people who are not in compliance.
"What was happening in the past was not working."
The DAS meeting to discuss the ordinance, standards of care and fees will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 4, at DAS, 7610 Davis Blvd.