By Erika Webb
Deltona residents will not be required to "fix" the animal population problem just yet. Proposed Ordinance No. 20-2012, adding Article VII -- "Mandatory Spay and Neuter" -- to Chapter 14, "Animals," of the City's Code of Ordinances was removed from the Nov. 19 regular meeting agenda.
The ordinance was first requested by Commissioner Heidi Herzberg to address the issue of "unintended or uncontrolled breeding of dogs and cats."
Though adopted at first reading on Sept. 17, the commission asked to discuss the proposed ordinance at a workshop on Oct. 8. There, they agreed to consider tabling it at second reading in order for staff and elected officials to consider revisions to the ordinance. It was included on the Oct 15 meeting agenda because it had already been advertised for second and final reading. It was then tabled to Nov. 19, when it was removed from the agenda.
Commissioner Herzberg said she and City Attorney Gretchen Vose, thought it unfair for the three new members of the Deltona City Commission to have to decide on something of this magnitude at their first meeting as commissioners.
"I want to give them more information,"
Commissioner Herzberg said in a phone interview, "I will provide them with the information I received from Halifax Humane Society, the (statistical) breakdown."
She said the costs associated with the ever-increasing unclaimed animal population are staggering. In 2011 the city spent $150,000 for the delivery of strays to Halifax Humane Society. And she said the dollar amount is rising.
"It's a huge, huge, huge amount. The numbers are horrific," Commissioner Herzberg said.
She pointed to the City of Holly Hill, which received a grant from PetSmart Charities, through Halifax Humane Society's Redinger Clinic, to offer free spay/neuter for cats belonging to residents.
A $50,000 donation from Alan and Mary Ann Redinger made it possible to outfit the building as a state-of-the-art clinic. A PetSmart Charities grant also allowed for the purchase of cutting-edge equipment to operate the clinic.
City of Holly Hill Code Compliance Officer Cherie Towne said Halifax Humane Society did the work to make the grant possible.
"They have a grant writer at Halifax and they got it for us. I think we still have it for another year," she said.
In 2011 Halifax Humane Society took in around 13,500 animals. Over half of those were feral cats taken in through municipal contracts, like Deltona's.
Miguel Abi-Hassan, the executive director for Halifax Humane Society said, following a three-day owner reclaim period, every animal brought into the shelter is vaccinated, sterilized, given a general health check and behavioral assessment. Healthy, unclaimed animals are then put up for adoption.
Because the non-profit organization operates at a loss, municipalities are charged no more than $85 per animal for those services, Mr. Abi-Hassan said.
"While it is a fiscal conservancy issue, the real story is in the numbers of animals we take in," he said. "Since 2001 the unincorporated areas of Volusia County had been the number one source for our shelter, including an all-time high of 4,200 in 2002."
Mr. Abi-Hassan said due to Volusia County initiatives, recent years have seen that number cut in half.
He said the county's "progressive spay and neuter policy" and the implementation of Pet Vet Cruiser in 2007 changed the story.
Pet Vet Cruiser is a state-of-the-art mobile veterinary clinic for pet owners in unincorporated areas who qualify to have their animals surgically sterilized.
Mr. Abi-Hassan said the work done there reduced the intake number from those areas to 1,500 in 2011.
"They spay and neuter up to 30 animals a day," he said.
Going back to Deltona.
"Deltona's numbers are going up while Volusia County's numbers are going down," Mr. Abi-Hassan said. "In 2002 Deltona was our third largest source of intake, bringing in 1,700 animals. Fast forward to 2011 and they are now our first source of intake with 1,900."
Mr. Abi-Hassan said he'd like to see the municipalities enact spay/neuter programs like Volusia County did.
"I liken spay/neuter ordinances to seat belt laws," he said. "There was a time when it was optional. People chose not to wear seat belts because they were uncomfortable or because people's shirts would get wrinkled. There comes a time when somebody's comfort impacts someone else's livelihood."
He said the argument in favor of such ordinances in cities like Deltona is based on tangible evidence, not fabrication.
"We take in more animals than Atlanta, a city of close to 5 million people," Mr. Abi-Hassan said.
It would not be economically feasible for municipalities to operate their own animal rescue facilities, he said. "Running their own shelters would cost tons more. When you look at a city the size of Deltona, the only solution is to reduce the number of free roaming animals."
Commissioner Herzberg said the numbers show it's time to try to do something different.
"We're probably going to bring it back to a workshop or at least give the new commissioners the information. They need to know both pros and cons," she said. "I'd like us to be on board with the rest of the county."