In a dramatic turn of events at the Nov. 7, 2023, Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting, many community residents voiced deep concerns over the conditions and practices at Hernando County Animal Services (HCAS). Citizens pleaded with the board for answers and immediate action to address the troubling issues plaguing the shelter.
Concerned citizens brought up a number of worrying issues that shed light on the dire situation at HCAS:
Overcrowding and Euthanasia:
Despite volunteers’ tireless efforts and staff attempts to facilitate adoptions, the shelter is operating at maximum capacity.
Overcrowding is resulting in the euthanasia of young, healthy dogs at an alarming rate.
Lack of Volunteer Engagement:
Volunteers, essential to the well-being of the animals, face challenges in spending quality time due to the sheer number of dogs and limited resources.
Volunteer applications are reportedly not being processed, negatively impacting the animals’ quality of life.
Hygiene and Infrastructure Issues:
Concerns were raised about kennel cleanliness, unclean drinking water, and a rat infestation.
Horror stories include instances of dogs bleeding to death due to broken drain covers.
Communication and Transparency:
Lack of communication regarding adoptions and inaccurate classifications, such as mislabeling dogs as violent, further exacerbate the crisis.
Citizens report receiving no response when inquiring about volunteering or adopting through normal channels.
Heart-wrenching accounts from citizens like Elana Vance highlighted the harsh realities faced by animals at HCAS. Vance recounted a traumatic incident where a dog was euthanized in a distressing manner during a photo shoot, raising questions about compassion and transparency. A resident named Bob shared the story of Tucker, euthanized without a comprehensive examination or attempts to contact the owner, sparking outrage within the community.
Commissioners expressed concern and acknowledged the need for immediate action:
Audits and Reviews:
A call for a comprehensive review of euthanasia data, an audit of HCAS, and a third-party objective evaluation
Emphasis on the importance of honesty from HCAS regarding reasons for euthanasia.
The commissioners wanted to review and update existing policies and procedures, addressing communication and decision-making flaws.
Staffing and Volunteer Onboarding:
Acknowledgment of staffing challenges and a commitment to streamlining the volunteer onboarding process for increased efficiency.
While HCAS Director James Terry defended the shelter’s practices—commissioners, citizens and volunteers highlighted the need for change, as well as acknowledging that while mistakes happen, there are success stories that come out of HCAS as well. A unanimous decision was made to pursue an official audit by a third party to look at HCAS’ policies and procedures to see if they’re efficient and adequate and if they coordinate and are in compliance with our state procedures. emphasizing the importance of transparency, efficiency, and compassion in Hernando County’s animal services. County administrator Jeff Rogers will come back with suggestions on the third-party audit.
As the community awaits the audit results, the future of HCAS hangs in the balance, with hopes for a revamped system that prioritizes the well-being of animals and fosters a culture of compassion and responsibility.