Convicted dog fighters can adopt dogs from county shelter with failed policies

County has little regard for safety of adopted dogs-slide0

Facebook page about hog hunting

No requirement that the adopter treat her heartworm disease

Photo by Rescue Me Tampa

Convicted dogfighters able to adopt dogs? In Tampa, Florida, that’s the reality.

The county shelter in Hillsborough County, Florida, doesn’t know who legally shouldn’t be able to adopt animals. Steve Andrews of NewsChannel 8 in a story yesterday confirmed what animal rescuers have seen more and more under the current shelter management — Pet Services in Tampa has no idea of who should adopt or not. And they don’t really care. The story Andrews shares is about a dog named Cabela. She was bought by dogfighters to fight other dogs, but she was too sweet and refused to fight. The now-convicted fighters, Kenny Bell and Darnell Devlin didn’t want her anymore. She was taken to the woods and shot, but injured, she managed to return home. The dog fighters then told two boys to “get rid of her,” so they tied her to railroad tracks, and then shot her again. She lay there waiting for death.

Cabela was lucky. She was rescued by Tampa police Sgt. Rich Mills (story here) and rushed to an emergency clinic where not only did she live, but they saved her injured leg. Even Huffington Post wrote about her story (story here). Those involved were convicted and prohibited from owning animals. The judge in the case, Circuit Judge Lisa Campbell, said “I don’t care if it’s a fish,” Campbell told him. “No animals at all,” according to The Tampa Tribune. However as Steve Andrews reported, Hillsborough County Pet Resources Center does not have them on their list of enjoined residents who are prohibited from owning animals. So they could go to the shelter and for $20 each get as many dogs as they wanted.

Local animal activists have long complained about the shelter’s lax adoption procedure and incompetent record keeping. While reputable, responsible private rescues and humane societies require an application and home check, the Pet Resource Center (PRC) does none of that. There is no application, no home check, nothing. But horrifyingly, the PRC does nothing to ensure that its animals, who depend on the shelter to keep them safe, are placed into loving homes where they will be safe.

For example, It’s perfectly legal for a convicted felon to adopt two pit bulls and keep them in pens to use as hog hunters. In fact, recently when rescuers asked for a home check on two adopted pit bulls, the adopter (with a long sheet of problems with the law as well as the felony conviction) had given the shelter a false address. The animal control officer went to the address the adopter gave when he adopted the two dogs and was told that the address was of the former girlfriend of the adopter and that the adopter had never lived there. The animal control officer then went to the actual address of the adopter and saw four dogs there. Two were the adopted dogs, and the officer was told that the other two were dogs that his roommate found. They were told that the two “found” dogs needed to be licensed, but the officer did not report the found dogs so that anyone looking for them would know where the dogs were.

In fact, those dogs were put up for sale with hog hunting equipment for $350. Dogs that he claimed he had “found” a few days earlier. And apparently, that is legal in Florida. The adopter also wrote on the Facebook page of someone who needed to “get rid of” her two dogs that he “had too many dogs” but could take more once he had his pens built. Living in a dog pen is not a life for a dog. And hunting hogs could be the death of a dog. This same felon posted that two of his dogs died — he didn’t specify how or whether it was because of hog hunting. But it’s okay. He just went to PRC to replace them. For only $20 a dog, it’s cheaper than replacing the oil in your car. And for those who don’t think hog hunting can be deadly for dogs, here is a post copied from a Facebook page on hog hunting:

“2 Florida men did it again good hog for tonight one dog cut up real bad”

In the past, the shelter had limits on the number of dogs that could be adopted from the shelter. Now, any limits the shelter might have (it’s not clear if there are limits) are far too generous considering that no welfare check is done post-adoption. Rescuers claim that under the leadership of Scott Trebowski, the shelter has gone from caring about the fate of the animals they save to caring only about the numbers. Some dogs found as “strays” have been at the shelter two and three times previously. Yet to keep the “no-kill” numbers looking good, the shelter does not count those as owner returns (although the owner dumped the dog on the street and will not return shelter calls), does not put the owners (who don’t come back for their dogs when called) on a do-not-adopt list, or in any way change their practices to prevent that from happening — over and over again — in the future.

A local activist told the story of one dog, Nicole, who was sweet and dog friendly. At the shelter, she was so good with other dogs they used her as a greeter dog to assess the temperament of new dogs. Yet after two failed adoptions, she started attacking other dogs at the shelter. Bouncing around from place to place, home to shelter and back again, is no life for a dog. The stress it causes can ruin the temperament of even the nicest dog. Like other dogs who went to homes and were later found on the streets later, no action is taken against those who adopted the dogs. In fact, not only are they not prosecuted for abandoning their dogs, they can go right back to the shelter to adopt another dog — or two or three.

Another source of contention is that dogs who are known to be heartworm positive can be adopted by people who will not get the dogs treated. This disease is deadly, and without treatment a dog dies a horrible death. But the shelter doesn’t care if the adopted dogs ever even see a veterinarian. There is no requirement that an animal get medical care in the current agreement. The shelter has stated the in the case of advanced heartworm with symptoms, they would require veterinarian care.

A shelter should be about humane treatment and finding safe homes — not about making the numbers look good at all costs. Allowing dogs to be adopted and used for hog hunting, living in cages instead of homes, treated as a weapon instead of a companion, is not acceptable.

The county commissioners don’t seem to care. But perhaps, if they hear from people in the county, and people who will refuse to visit Tampa and spend tourist dollars there until its animals are treated humanely, they might listen. Money talks.

To email the Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners (respectfully, please):

Board of County Commissioner emails (please keep your emails respectful, thank you!)