FORT MYERS, Fla. — Some local animal lovers are saying that Lee County Domestic Animal Services is putting down too many animals unnecessarily.
Melanie Agnello has placed nearly 5,000 cats and dogs in the 30 years she's been rescuing animals. With her Cape Coral rescue, Helping Paws 22, Agnello says LCDAS is hard to work with ends up pulling many high risk dogs out of Miami-Dade. She says, "To me, that's what rescue is about. It's not about flipping puppies. It's about rescuing something that needs to be taken care of."
Others, like Victoria Frazier, are coming to its defense. Frazier, who founded Love is Fur Ever, 13 years ago, says, "Compared to all the other shelters we work with, Lee County, by far, is the best."
Agnello says, "I just feel that the dogs aren't getting a fair chance in Lee County, and their outcome reports and numbers of euthanasia prove that."
In 2018, Lee County euthanized 31% of cat intakes and 18% of dog intakes. In 2021, through the end of May, the cat euthanasia rate went down to 29% and dogs to 13%.
Some agencies consider less than a 10% euthanasia rate as a "no-kill" shelter.
Lee County Assistant Manager, Marc Mora, oversees LCDAS. He says the county's live release data is their focus. He says, "Live release data looks at the number of animals that you're in taking ,and the numbers you're letting leave your agency. So, they're going to shelter partners. They're going to adoptions. We're about 88%, so if you look across the state that's a little above average.
Agnello says, "I don't know what their meeting of live release is but, their adoption numbers are nowhere close to other shelters. And their kill rate is higher."
Frazier says, "The only reason why Lee County will ever euthanize the dog is one, it's a harm to everyone. Its behavior is so bad, that somebody could get hurt. That's not a liability that Lee County should even put itself into. And the other one, is they can't medically be helped. Yes, we take on some severe cases, but they all can't be helped. So instead of seeing them suffering through whatever they're suffering through, humanely euthanize them."
In a 2015 newsletter from LCDAS, it addresses the "no kill conundrum." At the time, its average annual intake was about 5,000 cats and 5,000 dogs. The newsletter points out, in addition to serving as an adoption agency, it also serves as an animal control agency. Mora says, "In Lee County, we have an ordinance that drives how we operate, and it's contingent on two things. Ensuring the welfare of animals but, also, ensuring public safety. So, we have a public safety component to our operation as well. I can't speak for the other counties."
Miami-Dade County, where both of the rescues in this story pull from, recorded for 2020, an 8% euthanasia rate for cats and 3% for dogs.
During the same pandemic year, Lee County had 26% for cats and 18% for dogs.
Pinellas County is closer to Lee County in terms of population. In 2020, their animal services recorded 21% euthanasia rate for cats and 13% for dogs.
Mora says the county's numbers are improving, thanks to partnerships that are increasing every year. He adds, "There's been advertisements on the back of the Lee Tran vehicles and Lee buses. We have a very robust social media presence. And I want to say special events as well. "