New animal shelter on hold, overcrowding strains county

Putnam County Animal Control began a two-day adoption event at its downtown Palatka facility Thursday with very little luck after failing to give even one of its six dogs a forever home.

While the agency will give it another try today until 2 p.m. at that facility, showcasing its animals there hardly puts a dent in freeing up kennel space at the facility near the county landfill.

The shelter there is currently over capacity with its dog population, as 62 animals are housed despite its 58-dog limit, agency Supervisor Lisa Suarez said. As for cats, the shelter houses about 30, excluding newborn litters.

The problem with strained capacity is supposed to be alleviated as county officials look to open a new facility some time in the future. 

There have been talks about where one would be established, but the needle has barely moved in the years since it’s been proposed.

And with the recent state appropriations bill once again leaving out $500,000 for a shelter in the county, it’s unclear how long it’ll take until a facility finally breaks ground.

Putnam County could potentially receive $98.6 million in state appropriations as Gov. DeSantis looks to sign a proposed budget next week. But projects like a new animal shelter, have been put on the backburner in favor of higher priorities, like continued reconstruction of areas along the state panhandle after Hurricane Michael last year.

Rep. Bobby Payne and state Sen. Keith Perry requested the funds for the animal shelter for the third consecutive legislative session this year, but saw the same luck every time as it died in committee.

Payne hailed the Legislature’s decision to fund other projects, but said he will continue to fight for funding the shelter’s construction.

“We put in a lot of appropriations this year, so we’re happy with what we got at this point,” Payne said. “You at least get some of what you want, and with us, next year will be the start of another great one in Putnam County.”

But not being able to receive that $500,000 for the shelter is a setback for Animal Control staffers and county officials who continue to look to move away from the landfill, where the current animal shelter has been since the late 1990s.

And for people looking to adopt an animal, it’s an unseemly and uncomfortable site that often turns them away, Suarez said. 

“The main issue is people don’t want to come out to the landfill to adopt a pet,” she said. “We also don’t have an indoor facility like you see in other counties. … Especially now, when it’s raining on and off, we’ve had hardly anyone coming out.”

From the county’s standpoint, the process is slowly but steadily moving. While there are currently no designs of an eventual animal shelter or a defined property on which to place one, the county has set aside $750,000 to cover expenses once the project is finally green-lit, County Administrator Terry Suggs said.

The failed appropriations request was a definite setback, he added, but the project is far from dead as officials search for other options.

“What it did was cause us to regroup and reevaluate our options moving forward while we do what we have to do for the new facility,” Suggs said.

At this stage, the county is still evaluating locations for the facility and isn’t ruling out purchasing an existing building for Animal Control to use. 

One property under consideration for more than a year is a plot of land near the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office, where the St. Johns River Water Management District is expecting to inspect for environmental viability.

“There’s a lot of different pieces to the puzzle as we look to determine whether it’s a viable site,” Suggs said. “And if it’s not, then we’ll keep looking.”

There have been other setbacks in the county’s attempt to find a new facility, Suggs said, including the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, in 2017, which brought a host of flooding issues throughout Putnam.

That means Animal Control has had to continue waiting until more concrete developments come to fruition, but not without some help from community partners. 

Organizations based beyond county borders have been instrumental in the agency’s ability to free up space at its shelter. The sheriff’s office, for its part, has helped promote the agency’s adoption events on social media and, on Wednesday, delivered dog treats and box fans donated by locals to the shelter.

“Not only is my staff taking photos and putting them out on social media, but with (the sheriff’s office’s) help, it’s a better opportunity for the dogs to be seen by people who aren’t looking at our website,” Suarez said.

But that help isn’t enough, she added, as capacity issues are barely remedied. At its May 10 event, three of its six dogs on display were adopted, but two more took their places that same day, which is normal given the circumstances, Suarez said at the time.

Recently, the agency had to resort to building makeshift kennels to control the current overpopulation of dogs, including one placed in a room formerly used to euthanize sick animals.

The hope was for them to be used temporarily as Animal Control opened its downtown shelter a day early for adoptions.

But until a new facility is constructed — and, with it, the chance to free up more space — Animal Control staff continues to work on providing the care the animals it houses needs, often beyond normal work hours.

“If I have to open through the weekend, I’ll do it to make sure these dogs get adopted,” Suarez said. “I hope people realize despite how much they read on social media about how horrible we are that they’re so wrong. When staff aren’t here working, they’re reaching out to anyone they can to help get these animals adopted.”

Residents looking to adopt can do so 9 a.m. — 2 p.m. at Animal Control’s downtown facility, 523 Reid St. Dogs are $5 if they’re spayed and neutered. Younger animals are $75 for males and $85 for females, which includes their vaccines and a voucher to spay or neuter them.

Donations can be dropped off or shipped via Amazon to the agency’s landfill shelter, 174 County Landfill Road in Palatka, or to the sheriff’s office, 130 Orie Griffin Blvd. in Palatka.

Palatka Daily News

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