Animal Control – County Response Part 2

monkey-557586__340_croppedThe saga continues!  I’ve been attempting to fact check claims made in the 2015 State of the County report regarding the animal shelters.  On page 37, the county claims that the Upper Keys animal shelter handled 736 animals, the Middle Keys shelter handled 800-1000 animals, and the Lower Keys shelter handled 1,888.

Only the number for the Upper Keys shelter is supported by the monthly reports submitted, and that number only includes cats and dogs.  The Lower Keys shelter submitted an annual tally that does support the number of animals served (1,888).  But that report includes all animals served (not just cats and dogs) and includes numbers for all services provided by the shelter – not just those monitored by the monthly reports.  In other words, this was not an apples-to-apples comparison.  Not even close.

Why is this so important?  The kill rate at the Upper Keys shelter was 64% in 2015, about three times higher than the other two shelters.  The Upper Keys shelter also receives substantially less funding than the other two shelters on a per animal basis.  It just so happens that county staff’s handling of the data pumps up the numbers for the other two shelters, and minimizes the numbers at the Upper Keys shelter.  And that just so happens to obscure the fact of the differing funding levels.  Was that the intent?

At this point, I have to assume that “yes” that was the intent.  I can’t read minds, and staff hasn’t “confessed”.  But the county does have a history of making claims and then twisting the facts in order to support those claims.  Unfortunately, those claims often serve to justify actions that are detrimental to some segment of the Keys community.

The county also has a history of meddling with animal control in dishonorable ways.  Comm. George Neugent, Comm. Danny Kolhage and the iPhone Bandit were all implicated in the Stand Up for Animals (SUFA) debacle.  Kolhage was the County Clerk at the time, and the questionable audit of SUFA was prepared on his watch.  The county eventually settled with SUFA after spending four years and over $200,000 in taxpayer money on legal proceedings.

Anyhow, I did finally receive a response regarding the numbers at the Middle Keys shelter.  Here is a link to an annual summary report.  It simply sums up the monthly reports already available.  There’s nothing to clearly support a number of 800-1000.  The Florida Keys Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (FKSPCA) took over operations of the Middle Keys shelter in November 2015.  According to this email, staff asked FKSPCA for an estimate of annual activity at the Middle Keys shelter for 2015.  Did the FKSPCA even have access to the numbers at that point?  It’s impossible for me to say.  But staff most definitely did.

Each shelter is required to submit a monthly report to the county on a specified form included as an attachment to each of their contracts.  Why didn’t staff simply use these numbers?  What does a “tight deadline” have to do with it?  Punching the numbers into a spreadsheet once a month would have been an easy way to stay on top of things.

If staff wanted to include additional data (such as “other animals” and service calls), why didn’t they do so for all the shelters?  Why did staff include numbers from the Lower Keys shelter that aren’t normally included in the monthly reports?  The Upper Keys shelter, for example, provides free spay and neuter services for community pet owners.  Why didn’t staff request or include these numbers?  It is apparent that there was no effort made to ensure a fair comparison even though there was data available to do just that.

I’m more disgusted than ever with the county’s handling of this issue.  The extraordinarily high kill rate makes it very clear that there is a problem in the Upper Keys.  The prevailing opinion seems to be that there is a very large population of feral animals (especially feral cats) in Key Largo.

So what are our county officials doing about the situation?  Well…nothing.  They’ve got no ideas, no proposals.  They’ve solicited no ideas, no proposals.  HACC, the operator of the Upper Keys animal shelter, has no ideas, no proposals.  When asked about the high kill rate, Comm. Sylvia Murphy has said she is “perfectly happy” with the performance of the Upper Keys shelter.  There is nothing to indicate that the county is in any way serious about dealing with the issue.

The county’s handling of the data suggests that they are more concerned about masking the issue than with resolving it.  That means concerned citizens are on their own if they want to tackle the high kill rate.  Not only that, when they approach their commissioner, Sylvia Murphy, they will hit a brick wall.  Like always, they will be told to go away because everything is just fine the way it is.  And the county will have the cooked numbers to “prove” it.

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