In the midst of a work session Tuesday, New Port Richey city council members found something to laud.
Dr. Terry Spencer, a veterinarian and Patch blogger, presented to them a plan to have volunteers go out and retrieve stray dogs in the city, as well as pick up injured or at-risk cats that have been confined by a resident.
“We’re looking to reduce the intake of stray animals and prevent euthanasia,” said Spencer, who lives in New Port Richey and practices her craft at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic in Port Richey.
The new program would be administered by the New Port Richey Police Department and branded as its Animal Protection Unit. The unit is projected to save the city more than $20,000 in its first year, according to a business plan.
The idea would require a change of the city ordinances. Votes cannot be taken at a city council work session, but council members can give direction or share feelings. And after Spencer spoke, they all praised the preliminary plan and were welcoming of the concept.
“I think this is the absolute epitome of what a community's supposed to do," said Councilwoman Judy DeBella Thomas.
Councilman Bob Langford said the new unit “will really help out our city and our animals a whole lot.”
Spencer worked to create the plan with Sharon McReynolds, a business owner downtown, and Police Chief Jeffrey Harrington, who also spoke about the proposal. Crafting the proposal took about a year, mainly because of difficulties finding a site for a new shelter being built for the unit.
Spencer said she plans to talk to Harrington and City Manager John Schneiger about a timeline for hammering out the details of the plan and bringing the proposed ordinance changes to the council for formal consideration and adoption. It probably won't happen before Oct. 1, when the fiscal year 2012 budget takes effect.
Currently, the city contracts out its animal control services to Pasco County Animal Services for about $57,000 annually, according to the proposal. That number has been quoted to rise to nearly $80,000 in fiscal year 2012 to account for county budget shortfalls.
Under the current contract, the county picks up stray dogs in the city but not stray or confined and injured cats, although cats are accepted at the county animal shelter. Before the current agreement with the county, the city formerly contracted out its animal control services to the Suncoast SPCA of West Pasco but discontinued the deal when the contract got too expensive in 2008.
“I think we’re getting a lot less for our money (now) than we should,” said Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe, who has known Spencer since he was a child.
In the new unit, the police department would receive a call about a stray animal. A trained, certified volunteer Animal Response Team would go out and retrieve a stray or injured dog or an injured cat that has been confined. They would provide a trap-neuter-release service for managed feral cat colonies.
The animal would be able to stay in a new shelter in the city, which will have separate kennels for dogs and cats, for as many as five days. The crafters' proposed site is the New Port Richey Police station, which was settled on after deciding against using McReynolds' business or the public works department.
If injured, the animal will be stabilized or euthanized by a local veterinarian at a fixed cost to the city.
The animal would be required to be microchipped and vaccinated, if it isn’t already, before it was returned to the owner, and its license would need to be current. In addition, a "Fix It or Ticket" spay-neuter rule would be enforced. Veterinarians would offer a discounted spaying or neutering service to city residents, Spencer said.
Pet owners would be required to own a new mandatory license, to be implemented with the rest of the program. A new cat license program would be implemented to help with identification and population control.
If an owner is not reached, the animal will be transferred to an adoption agency so long as that agency spays or neuters. If the animal is too aggressive to be adopted or is severely injured, it would be euthanized.
Veterinarians would provide medical services at a special fixed rate, according to the plan. Spencer said three veterinarians, including herself, have expressed interest in participating in the program.
Councilwoman Ginny Miller said she liked that the plan was “low-cost” and “local.”
The plan drew applause from a small audience, most of whom had come to support it, and questions from some.
Rowena Hover said that she had concerns about proposed cat license fees that could be imposed upon cat owners or caretakers. She also worried that the location of feral cat colonies would be made public.
McReynolds said that businesses could provide sponsorships for cat licenses and that a proposed database would keep information private.
All in all, however, Hover said it was a "laudable plan" and that she supported it.