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Group proposes taking over animal sheltering for Fort Pierce, St. Lucie County

Posted at 11:16 AM, Jan 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-22 11:16:47-05

ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. — The City of Fort Pierce and St. Lucie County could be one step closer to getting a fresh start in serving the homeless animals in their communities.

WPTV was the first station to uncover the mismanagement of the previous Humane Society of St. Lucie County in 2018, where poor inspection results, financial struggles, transparency issues, and questionable leadership created a tense relationship between previous shelter leadership and the municipalities.

That culminated in 2019 when a volunteer at the shelter’s Fort Pierce location on Savannah Road was mauled to death.

Fort Pierce, St. Lucie County, and Port St. Lucie ended their contracts with the former shelter.

New leadership took over the Humane Society of St. Lucie, creating a fresh start. They signed a new contract with only Port St. Lucie.

St. Lucie County and Fort Pierce were left in limbo, creating a temporary shelter in St. Lucie County. They also poured nearly $500,000 into bringing the Fort Pierce shelter location up to code after inspections found dangerous conditions for animals and staff.

The City of Fort Pierce put out a request for proposals from private groups that would be willing to take on the animal sheltering services.

After waiting more than a year, the municipalities finally have a promising offer.

Operation S.O.S has been operating for several years on the Treasure Coast, working out of a mobile van to spay and neuter thousands of animals for at least 15 rescue groups.

Executive Director and Veterinarian, Dr. Julie Kittams says Operation S.O.S was among the local animal welfare groups waiting for someone to take over shelter operations.

“Any community really needs to have a functional open admission municipal shelter,” Dr. Kittams said. “It’s been a long journey and I commend the municipalities for hanging in there.”

Dr. Kittams said she met with her board, tired of waiting.

“My board and I just sat down one day and said you know, we can do this. It’s important and so we did it,” Dr. Kittams said, pulling together a proposal for the municipalities to consider.

They are forming an additional, but separate non-profit called Sunrise Humane Society, fitting to be located in the Sunrise City of Fort Pierce.

“A sunrise is a place of new hope,” Dr. Kittams said.

Sunrise Humane Society would commit $20,000 into launching the organization. Their plan has an emphasis on extensive training and safety measures for staff and volunteers. The plan is broken into 4-phases, starting with setting up internal leadership, opening to the public, creating a foster network, and continuing spay and neuter programs.

The second phase, opening to the public, could take up to six months, according to the proposal.

She says they can also answer the call of many residents who want lower euthanasia rates.

“We already know all of the private shelters. It’s just a phone call away,” Dr. Kittams said.

Their budget would also be flexible for the first several months to gauge what the true operational costs will be. Dr. Kittams says the city wants to see them succeed.

They will seek approval from the city and county in the coming weeks.

“The goal is February 1st. That is a short timeframe so we’re still shooting for the stars there,” Dr. Kittams said.