While fewer pets are being euthanized in Palm Beach County, private shelters are crowded with dogs and cats left by their owners.
The private shelter owners blame a bad economy and county zoning rules for the problem.
“Pet owners plead with me to take their dogs,” said Lauree Simmons, president of Big Dog Ranch Rescue, an animal shelter in West Palm Beach. “Their homes have been foreclosed. They can’t afford the security deposit required for a dog at their new apartment.”
Simmons’ facility is at its 30-dog capacity and is turning owners away. The Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League has 412 cats and dogs, about 40 over capacity.
At Safe Harbor Animal Rescue and Hospital in Jupiter, there are 100 dogs and 325 cats being treated and up for adoption. That’s the most since the facility opened 25 years ago, said Kay-Lynette Roca, the founder of the nonprofit shelter that operates in a 14,000-square-foot storefront on Indiantown Road.
Meanwhile, the number of animals being euthanized at the Palm Beach County Animal Care & Control Division on Belvedere Road has dropped steadily, from about 17,800 in 2006 to about 16,600 last year. Animals taken to the shelter have dropped from about 30,000 in 2005 to about 26,000 last year.
Most of the animals are dogs and cats, but there also are pigs, horses, gerbils, parakeets, rabbits and cows.
The declines are due to the new county spay/neutering requirements started two years ago, the leveling off of the county’s human population and more animal adoptions, said Dianne Sauve, the division’s director.
“We are still marching 40 animals a day down the hallway to be euthanized. Some are week-old kittens who barely can open their eyes. It’s heartbreaking,” Sauve said.
Avoiding euthanization is the reason more owners are sending their pets to Safe Harbor, Roca said. Safe Harbor and similar shelters have a no-kill policy.
“People know if they bring their pet to the county, it could be killed within five days. That doesn’t happen here,” she said.
But fewer animals would be euthanized if the county would lighten its zoning restrictions for animal shelters, Roca said. For more than a decade, Safe Harbor has been unsuccessfully seeking property in the county to expand its shelter and hospital.
In the past, many animal shelters operated under the zoning radar in agricultural and residential areas. In 2008, the county required that shelters could only be built on property zoned for commercial or light industrial use, or on land owned by the public.
Complaints from property owners in residential and agricultural land brought the change, said Jon MacGillis, county zoning director.
“Some people had been operating mom-and-pop shelters out of their homes. Some were even doing adoptions. That was illegal. We created a special zoning designation for the non-profit shelters to operate,” MacGillis said.
But commercial and light industrial land is too expensive, Roca said. Her solution?
Move to Martin County.
Using a $1.5 million donation from Jupiter residents Herb and Karen Baum, Safe Harbor last month bought 28 acres zoned for agricultural use in Palm City.
The Safe Harbor animal hospital and adoption center will remain in Jupiter. The administration offices and an animal sanctuary will be off State Road 76.
Expansion plans call for an education center where children will attend a summer camp and work with horses, pigs, goats, sheep and chickens. A pool, where dogs and their owners can swim together, is planned. There will be an obedience school, along with a cemetery and mausoleum for pets. A section will be for rent for weddings and other events.
“We want to bring in our own money and not have to be always asking for donations,” Roca said.
Building more shelters is not the answer to reducing the number of animal euthanizations and crowding in shelters, Sauve said.
“Unless we increase the number of pets that are spayed and neutered, all the shelters will be full, no matter how many you build,” she said.
Martin allows animal shelters and animal adoptions on agriculturally zoned property, but the designation has its opponents, said Nicki van Vonno, Martin growth management director.
“One person wanted an animal shelter on his property that is zoned agricultural. The neighborhood had lots of nearby 5-acre homes. There was strong opposition,” van Vonno said. “He did not get his permit.”
To contact Safe Harbor, go to safeharbor.jupiterdaily.com or call (561) 747-5311. To contact Big Dog Ranch, go to: bigdogranchrescue.org or call 561-346-0827. To contact Peggy Adams Animal Rescue, go to hspb.org, or call 561-686-3663