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City of Port St. Lucie gives second chance to Humane Society of St. Lucie County, renews partnership

Posted: 10:47 PM, Jan 21, 2020
Updated: 2020-01-22 00:11:41-05

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The Humane Society of St. Lucie County is getting a second chance with the City of Port St. Lucie.

Port St. Lucie commissioners voted Tuesday to approve a ‘fresh start’ contract with the shelter.

The city will be giving more money to the shelter to help it make good on its debts and reorganize. In exchange, the city will get more access to the shelter, more involvement on the shelter’s board of directors, and more financial transparency from shelter leadership.

This decision comes just months after the Humane Society of St. Lucie County was the subject of a criminal investigation in which the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office recommended criminal charges. The State Attorney’s Office did not pursue charges.

The Humane Society of St. Lucie County was also criticized for poor inspection reports, maintenance issues, and financial trouble with debt exceeding six figures.

The Humane Society of St. Lucie County’s former board and leadership disbanded. Now that there is new leadership and a contract that includes more government oversight, city leaders said they were more comfortable renewing the partnership.

“Moving forward, we hope that we can see the humane society thrive and continue to the plight to protect our animals and the unwanted,” said commissioner Jolien Caraballo.

Melissa McInturff, the new board president for the Humane Society of St. Lucie County, said the new contract will give the shelter about $950,000 over the next three years.

The new contract raises the per capita contribution from Port St. Lucie residents to the Humane Society of St. Lucie County from $.86 to $2.30.

The city will also give the Humane Society of St. Lucie County up to a $200,000 loan to make good on mortgage debt and reorganize.

Caraballo said the city long underpaid the shelter. Now, she says they are stepping up to the plate.

“We have to act as good stewards and it does cost money to make sure these animals are taken care of,” Caraballo said.

McInturff says she is working hard to rebuild the shelter’s reputation and rebuild trust within the community. “Supporters of the Humane Society of St. Lucie County are starting to come back. The old donors are starting to come back,” McInturff said. “This is about the animals. It’s not about liking me. It’s not about liking my staff. It’s not about us liking each other. It’s about us working together for those who can’t speak."

Animal advocate Terri Walden agreed the city needed to contribute more money to shelter animals.

"Today's City of Port St. Lucie Council approval of $2.4 million in payment, loans, and grants over the next 4 years to the Humane Society of St. Lucie County is the culmination of over 2 years of animal advocacy efforts to expose one of the highest kill shelters in the State. This action reverses the City's past practice of being the lowest municipal contributor to animal welfare services, to now being the highest in St. Lucie. Let us hope that the City of Fort Pierce and St. Lucie County make similar financial commitments to address their homeless pet crisis,” Walden said.

Some animal rescue representatives and volunteers from other rescue organizations said the renewed partnership concerns them. “We’re giving money to an organization that has already failed. So, why don’t we wipe the slate clean?” said Dogs and Cats Forever volunteer, Diane

Susan Parry with United for Animals said she would rather see the city invest the money into a program that reduces the need for sheltering services, such as trapping, neutering, and spaying.

“I'm against investing this kind of money into revolving door sheltering,” Parry said.

Mayor Greg Oravec asked the community to be supportive of the renewed partnership.

“We ask you to join us. We ask you to save an institution as we save our dogs and cats.”

City officials say the city’s animals are still being taken to a temporary shelter at the Treasure Coast International Airport and the Humane Society of St. Lucie County.

Beginning in March, animals surrendered by Port St. Lucie residents or picked up by Port St. Lucie Animal Control will be taken only to the Humane Society of St. Lucie County.