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St. Lucie County among areas announcing changes to animal control response during COVID-19 pandemic

County officials say the order follows guidelines provided by the National Animal Care and Control Association.
Posted at 10:48 PM, Apr 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-14 23:44:38-04

ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. — St. Lucie County announced Tuesday that it will be adjusting the level of response calls for the Animal Safety, Service and Protection staff beginning April 16.

In an Executive Order expected to be signed Wednesday, the county will still keep many functions running but will be scaling back in some areas to provide protection to the staff that might respond to calls that could expose them to COVID-19.

Staff will continue to operate the temporary animal shelter and care for the animals that are currently in its custody while taking new measures to reduce the number of new animals that come into the shelter.

County officials say the order follows guidelines provided by the National Animal Care and Control Association.

The NACA recommends that officers continue to respond to high priority/ emergency calls. That includes law enforcement assistance, injured or sick stray animals, cruelty and neglect complaints, bite complaints, and dangerous and aggressive dog complaints.

The NACA also recommends suspending non-emergency owner surrender intakes at the shelter and encourages owners who are ill to keep their pets at home whenever possible.

St. Lucie County officials say pet owners should have several plans for their pets in the event they are no longer able to take care of them because of illness or financial struggles. They recommend reaching out to family or friends for help, using social media to find the pet another home, or reaching out to a local rescue agency.

If someone has lost their pet, they can check the county’s website to see if it is being housed at the temporary shelter.

A Port St. Lucie woman, who did not want to be identified, said she has already experienced a preview of the new rules.

She recently called 911 to report a stray dog that she found, telling dispatchers, “I found a dog that was roaming the street with a big chain around its neck and everything.”

Records reveal the dispatcher relayed information that St. Lucie County was no longer picking up non-injured animals, saying “The county is not responding to those calls unless the dog is injured… They sent a memo today that they’re not picking up stray dogs, just to let it go.”

County officials said there is no record of any such memo, and that the dispatcher relayed incorrect information at the time.

The 911 caller ended up keeping the dog to foster. She took it to the vet, finding it actually was suffering from multiple injuries.

The caller is now worried about other dogs being left to wander.

“Since I rescued him, I’ve seen about 4 other animals roaming the streets."

Martin County’s Animal Control officers are still responding to emergency calls and priority calls for service, but they are trying to resolve more low-priority cases over the phone, such as barking dogs.

Palm Beach County Animal Control is only accepting emergency surrenders of animals, including cruelty and cases of domestic violence. They are not aggressively picking up strays.