The Key West Citizen repeated its annual dive into county-funded animal shelter statistics. Although I often find problems with the Citizen’s reporting, I really appreciate that they do this. It gives taxpayers a concrete idea of what’s going on with a service they pay for. And I think its something that most people care very much about. I know I do.
In the past, I’ve responded by checking into the numbers myself. An unfortunate side-effect of that was discovering that Monroe County staff lied about the numbers in its 2015 State of Monroe County report. Which is….evil. A strong-sounding word maybe, but appropriate given the circumstances. This was an obvious attempt to mislead the public, and it appears to have been done with the intention of obscuring the fact that the shelter with the highest kill rate also receives the lowest level of funding. All that lying does absolutely nothing to help the animals. It might temporarily cover a few bureaucratic butts.
You see, each of the county-funded shelters is required by contract to provide monthly reports detailing the number animals received and what happened to them (adopted, reunited, euthanized). In other words, the data is available and unambiguous. Not only that, the Citizen requests the reports and compiles the numbers each year. That means county staff lied even though they knew a widely read local publication would fact check them. So not only evil, but arrogant, too. They didn’t care about getting caught.
As usual, none of the county commissioners see anything wrong with this. The staff involved faced zero consequences. We know all too well that the commissioners are part of the problem. Perhaps even the root of the problem. Their abhorrent conduct in the Stand Up for Animals (SUFA) matter is well-documented. The one silver lining is that the situation eventually led to commissioner George Neugent being reprimanded by the Florida Commission on Ethics. But what is the motivation behind the county’s behavior? Are greed and corruption involved? It certainly seems a likely explanation.
So that’s the environment we find ourselves in. We’ve got three taxpayer-funded animal shelters. One vastly under-performs the other two when it comes to euthanasia rates. That particular shelter also receives substantially less funding than the other two, but we’re all expected to pretend that has nothing to do with the high kill rate. The county government overseeing these shelters has a history of shady behavior. Sadly, it’s the animals who pay the ultimate price.
I believe the Keys can and should do better. But it will never happen without public involvement. County government is simply too dysfunctional to fix this on their own. County officials are clearly running some agenda that’s got nothing to do with animal welfare.
Any hope of improvement starts with accurate information. I’ll share what I’ve got so far, including my own field observations.
One: There are a lot of feral/free-roaming cats in the Upper Keys.
There’s a guy who used to feed the cats outside the Key Largo wastewater treatment plant. I remember he would show up every day around 6 pm, and it seemed like hundreds of cats would swarm out of the woods. There were also lots of cats at Publix and Winn Dixie in Tavernier.
Periodic letters to the editor continue to document the issue.
Two: It’s well-known and well-understood that Key Largo’s county commissioner, Sylvia Murphy, is indifferent to the problems faced by her own district and refuses to address them.
But people in District 5 vote for her anyway. That’s a mystery I haven’t been able to crack. I’ve asked about it and most of the responses I get are from people who dislike Murphy and didn’t vote for her. So my attempts to find clarity only deepen the mystery. Maybe the iPhone Bandit stuffs the ballot boxes? Maybe Vladimir Putin is hacking into the voting machines? Who knows?
Most people in the Upper Keys care about animals. I know that. I see that. But there’s a disconnect. They’re not willing to take the basic steps necessary to improve the situation. Why? Obviously adequate political representation has the potential to make a huge difference on the high kill rate and many other problems.
Three: The people who operate the Upper Keys shelter seem resistant to any idea that has the potential to improve the odds for the animals they are supposed to care for.
Marsha Garretson has batted down the idea of equitable funding for her own shelter and has criticized other shelters for transferring animals. It seems logical that both of these common-sense ideas might lead to some improvement in the kill rate at her shelter. Her resistance is puzzling considering what’s at stake.
Here’s Garrettson’s take on equitable funding, as reported by the Citizen back in 2015.
Marsha Garrettson, director of the Upper Keys Animal Shelter, offered little explanation as to why the euthanasia trends in the Upper Keys were far above the rest of the island chain.
She told the Free Press her nonprofit organization is financially sound and can afford to provide surgeries and healthcare to any animal brought it. Her shelter also provides free spay and neuter services, which she says has reduced overall intake of cats and dogs over the years.
“This was never about the money,” Garrettson said. “It never has been.”
Hmmm…what’s especially interesting about this comment is that HACC’s 2013 tax return indicates that they spent very little on medical expenses compared to the other two shelters. Are we really supposed to believe that equitable funding wouldn’t make a positive difference on the kill rate?
And here’s what Garrettson had to say about transferring animals in order to boost their chances for adoption, as reported by the Citizen in their latest article.
The Lower and Middle keys shelters, according to its monthly reports, transferred some of their adoptable animals to no-kill shelters and breed-specific organizations across the state to help further aid in finding homes for animals. This is aside from its local adoptions.
Garrettson said her shelter does not have a partnership with such establishments.
“That’s not going to fix anything here [in the Keys],” Garrettson said last week. “That’s just giving your problems to another area. A lot of shelters make that mistake.”
When I moved to New Hampshire in 2014, one of the first things I wanted to do was adopt a dog. But after visiting several shelters, it quickly became apparent that there aren’t many dogs available for adoption locally. It turns out that the folks of New Hampshire have worked hard on the issue of shelter animals and those efforts have paid off. Many adoptable dogs are imported into New Hampshire from out-of-state. I eventually adopted a dog from Mississippi. Nearly all of my New Hampshire friends have adopted their dogs from high-kill shelters out-of-state. It’s very, very common.
Based on that experience, I don’t understand why Garrettson would say transferring animals to other regions for adoption is “giving your problems to another area”. That shelter in Mississippi didn’t give me a “problem”, they gave me a pet – a friend, a new family member.
So those are my field observations and the information I’ve gathered so far. In a nutshell, neither the county government nor the Upper Keys shelter seem very serious about tackling the high kill rate. The county seems to be running its own agenda, which has nothing to do with animal welfare. When ideas are proposed to tackle the issue, they are simply brushed off by the shelter operator. And so the problem just continues. Needlessly. Continuously.
I think comparing the three local shelters is okay but, at this point, it’s not all that useful. The Upper Keys shelter is struggling. This is something we already know. It’s been well documented. Nothing much has changed since I began tracking the issue. This year, I included comparisons with national numbers and a New Hampshire shelter.
First, the good news. The Middle and Lower Keys shelters outperform the national average when it comes to the percentage of animals euthanized.
Second, the bad news. The Upper Keys shelter’s performance lags way behind the national average and all other shelters listed. We already knew that. Even so, it’s startling to see just how badly their performance compares. More depressing still, there’s nothing to indicate that the people who run the Upper Keys shelter even believe improvement is possible. They seem determined to continue on with the same failed strategies. Even if that means unnecessary suffering and death for the animals they’re supposed to care for.
Third, look at what’s possible. I included numbers for the New Hampshire SPCA shelter for inspiration. Perhaps the Upper Keys faces challenges that prevent them from matching New Hampshire’s performance. Even if that is the case, I don’t believe for a second that the Upper Keys community can’t do better than a 52% kill rate. Especially when you see the performance of the other two taxpayer-funded animal shelters in the Keys.