POLK COUNTY, Fla. — Florida currently ranks fourth in the nation for the number of animals euthanized in 2020, according to the Best Friends organization. While many animal control agencies are on track to becoming no-kill shelters, there’s one county that has led the state in euthanization rates for at least three years now — that’s Polk County.
“There is nothing wrong with these dogs, nothing other than the fact that there are too many in this county,” said Shannon Medina, a co-founder with Angie Lorio of the Polk County Bully Project, created three years ago when the stats first came out.
Polk County is largely rural.
“I would say that there's backyard breeding of pit bulls,” Medina explained, “A lot of times people are just doing it to make money.”
The Bully Project prioritizes pit bull breeds because the county does not adopt them out.
"So those dogs that are labeled pits have to be rescue only… there's no other way out. But we cannot get ahead of the flow of dogs,” Medina stressed.
The ladies showed ABC Action News through their dog kennel rooms. They introduced us to Aspen, a small pit bull mix who had just had his ninth surgery at the SPCA facility.
“Someone tied a leash around his muzzle,” Medina exclaimed. Aspen was likely used as a bait dog in fights, Lorio added that they could see through his entire snout and it was riddled with infections.
If Aspen was not rescued by the ladies, he would have been a statistic.
For example, in the month of June, the county animal shelter started with 677 animals.
- 1,108 more came in
- 364 were adopted out
- 78 were returned to their owners
- 45 were transferred
- 434 were euthanized
By July 1, they still had 737 cats and dogs.
For the last year, the county has had a moratorium on owner surrenders, those are the dogs that fill the kennels at the local SPCA.
“We have a kennel that fills about 48 dogs, our small dog puppy room will hold about 25 to 30, and we do have probably about 150 to 200 cats on property too, plus about 200 cats in foster care,” explained Randa Ritcher, the media relations liaison for Polk County SPCA Florida.
The majority of their cats are from animal control. Ritcher said because Florida is so hot, cats will have twice as many litters than dogs every year.
While the county has made serious strides in saving more animals, summer is always the hardest season for shelters, especially this year with more people heading out to travel after pandemic shutdowns.
For the month of June, the county shelter’s live release rate for dogs was 71% and for cats, 37%. The euthanasia rate for dogs was 11%, and cats 30%.
If we look at last year’s numbers as a whole, the Best Friends organization reports Polk County took in more than 16,000 dogs and was able to save 11,000.
On the other side, bordering Hillsborough County took in 18,000 and saved 17,000.
The difference? Legislation.
Hillsborough County currently requires owners to register and license their cats and dogs, breeders to obtain permits, and provides rebate incentives for spay and neuter.
“People either need low cost or no-cost spay and neuter so we just need funding to help cover that,” Ritcher said.
“If we could start with the first step of requiring people to get a license to breed,” Medina added. “So money coming in for things like that could support spay and neuter voucher program. So one thing kind of needs to feed another.”
Until then, citizens can help by adopting or fostering. The Bully Project says if you can drive to them, they’ll provide everything you need to help foster.
The Bully Project does not receive any money from the county, so they rely solely on donations. You can donate here.
ABC Action News made several attempts to reach the Polk County commissioners about the possibility of legislation via phone and email. We did not receive a response.