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Animal rescue groups misused Broward’s pet sterilization voucher program

Cat_LitterBy Dan Christensen

“Vigilante trappers” and pet activists have improperly stuck Broward taxpayers with the tab to sterilize feral and stray cats.

An internal county report says Broward’s Stop Pet Overpopulation Together (S.P.O.T.) program was misused by animal rescue groups to have wild cats spayed and neutered at local clinics in violation of program rules.

No allegations of wrongdoing were leveled at any specific animal rescue group or clinic, but reports by Broward’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and Professional Standards recommended better verification of pet ownership before S.P.O.T. sterilization vouchers are issued.

S.P.O.T. program coordinator Timothy Weihrauch said program fixes have already been made.

“This new process prevents vigilante trappers from trapping feral cats and presenting vouchers which they obtained by soliciting unknowing citizens in local neighborhoods,” Weihrauch said.

“I have already seen numbers from [animal] hospitals which had been questioned for ‘feral’ activity drop drastically.”

The investigative report, written April 20, was made public recently at Broward Bulldog’s request.

Low and moderate income pet owners who own and keep a dog or cat are eligible to obtain S.P.O.T. vouchers. But county officials believe some activists duped friends, neighbors or others to sign up for vouchers to sterilize feral cats that no one owns.

The county’s internal probe began last November after complaints were received that two clinics, Cats Exclusive of Margate and Discount Pet Clinic in Davie, had misused S.P.O.T. funds. Each of those clinics performed dozens of sterilizations in 2008 that were paid for by the county, the report said.

Investigators were suspicious because registered pet owners who received their annual license renewals in 2009 reported back that they didn’t own the neutered animal. Likewise, numerous S.P.O.T. applications submitted to the county for payment had similar handwriting, reports say.

“Each alleged S.P.O.T. pet owner brought in 2-4 cats at a time,” says one report.

At the county’s request, the clinics turned over S.P.O.T. surgery records for the period May-August 2008. In March, investigators interviewed 18 customers each from the two clinics.

Thirteen customers of the nonprofit Cats Exclusive and eight from Discount Pet said they did not own the animal registered to them.

Investigators did not attempt to determine how long program misspending occurred, or determine its breadth. But Professional Standards director Gretchen Harkins said the misuse had cost in the thousands of dollars.

Broward paid for about 2,000 S.P.O.T. sterilizations in 2008 at more than 20 veterinary clinics and nonprofit organizations. The procedures were funded by a $2 surcharge on animal license tags.

The S.P.O.T. program reimburses veterinarians $60 to neuter a male cat, and $86 to spay a female cat. Pet owners must pay an additional $10 at the clinic.

Feral cats are excluded from the program by county ordinance because they are not owned by anyone, said S.P.O.T coordinator Weihrauch.spotlogo2

While the rules are clear, the S.P.O.T. application form was “vague” in 2008, the reports say. The form was revised this year, and applicants must now certify they live in Broward and own the animal that’s to be sterilized. They must also present a photo ID.

Some pet owners told investigators they gave cats to several rescue groups to stop the killing of animals and to reduce the population of wild cats in their neighborhoods. The report on Cats Exclusive identifies two of those groups as Beyond Nine and Animal Aid.

“Other pet owners stated that they were being solicited by rescue organizations to bring in the cats for spaying/neutering,” says the report, adding that unidentified rescue workers also provided pet owners with “pre-completed S.P.O.T. applications” for them to sign.

The report concluded evidence “clearly supports the allegation that many of the S.P.O.T. application pet owners [at Cats Exclusive] were bringing feral/stray or rescue cats, in violation of the S.P.O.T. program eligibility requirements.”

A spokeswoman for Cats Exclusive said the clinic did not know of any misuse of the county’s vouchers.

“If anybody was misusing the vouchers they pretty much had nothing to do with us,” said manager Niuvi Liriano.

Investigators also found that Discount Pet customers did not own sterilized cats registered in their names. However, they found no cause to believe pre-completed forms were used at Discount Pet because all 18 pet owners they contacted said they signed their applications.

Clinic co-owner Sherry Norem said she supports the new county requirements and was unaware of any past voucher abuses.

The report is the latest problem for the section that runs Broward’s animal shelter. Three years ago, reports of animal abuse and poor management at the shelter prompted county commissioners to pay for an expensive audit that led to numerous recommendations for change.

Animal Care received an administrative shake up earlier this year when it was put under the control of the county’s Permitting, Licensing and Consumer Protection Division. The move came after animal care mistakenly euthanized a cat with an embedded locator microchip that was owned by a Broward family. Animal Care’s former bureaucratic home, the Department of Community Services, is being disbanded Oct. 1.

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  • I was just discussing this with my husband, the concept is good the system is flawed. Why not include feral cats as there are way too many cats running around this are not to mention splattered on Federal Highway which erks me everytime I see one. PEOPLE!!!! If you own a pet take responsiblity or DON”T own a pet.

  • What is your solution to spay & neuter all the feral cats if not to use the SPOT program? Does the county have a specific program JUST for ferals? No, therefore, rescue groups are forced to used the SPOT program. I thought Animal Care’s job is to take care of ALL animals and make sure they are spayed & neutered. These new requirements/procedures will only prevent feral cats from being spayed/neutered, thereby adding to the pet overpopulation problem. Not a good solution.

  • Broward paid for about 2,000 S.P.O.T. sterilizations in 2008 at more than 20 veterinary clinics and nonprofit organizations. The procedures were funded by a $2 surcharge on animal license tags. I live in Broward County and I helped pay for these surgeries with my $2.00 surcharge on my animal’s tags. The thought of animal rescue groups misusing vouchers is ridiculous. If misused is spay or neutering an animal and adopting it to a loving family that that lives in Broward County, then we need some new regulations. Some of these people should come and volunteer at some of these no-kill non profit shelter’s and see what really goes on. How much time and money is spent on keeping these animal’s safe. These volunteer’s go above and beyond and sacrifice alot. Well if we are going to be blamed for anything I would much rather be blamed for saving lives than taking lives. We are no kill after all. Maybe there should be more programs to help these animals who can not help themselves!

  • UHHHH Stop Pet Over Population Together what are we missing here. any wrong doing was done by the people who drew up the documents that did not include the cats in our neighbrohoods and thankfully there are many other programs evolving to solve this, People, there is a whole lot worse going on in this world, can you write about that.

  • I am GLAD the surcharge on my pets’ licenses was used to spay/neuter feral cats. People have no business owning a pet if unwilling or unable to pay vet bills. The spay/neuter process is just the first step in ownership fiscal responsibility. If someone can’t afford the spay or neuter, then what happens when the pet gets sick? It just dies in agony? Or gets left at the vet’s office. Or tossed out. I see nothing wrong with spay/neuter funds going to humanely reduce the feral populations.

    And by the way, the use of the word “vigilante” is ridiculous. A vigilante is someone who takes the law into their own hand with no respect for a higher authority. I think the folks who try to help the ferals are indeed answering to a Higher Authority – the Big One upstairs who says we are the shepherds of the earth. God Expects Humans to be His Stewards with Nature Genesis 1:26.

  • First of all, kudos to all the dedicated folks that care for feral cat colonies and run TNR programs – usually with their own money.
    We try to supply them with free cat food just as often as we can get a trailer donated to us. Having said that, I have to add a thumbs down on those that feel the SPOT fund should be raided (plundered?) to pay for neutering the ferals. That is NOT what it is for !!
    Is it okay for your spouse to use the grocery fund to pay for new fancy rims for his truck? Of course not.
    I was on the old original Animal Care Advisory Committee when we first researched the country for ways to reduce our shameful rate of euthanasia at
    the Browaed county shelters. The Broward citizens in low income areas could not afford the hich Vet charges and therefore their owned pets kept breeding and pumping out new puppies and kittens. The SPOT program can be successful but NOT if it is raided to neuter ferals.

    So here’s the good news – we also developed a program to address the HUGE feral cat situation in Broward. It is ten times better than trying to steal a few dollars from the fund for low income familie. That very viable plan was presented last year to the County Commissioners, and the new management at Animal Care. The new Animal Care Adivsory Committee is also aware of the plan. Nothing has been done. They just sit on it. And here’s the punch line;
    they already have hundreds of thousands of dollars just siting there in a fund that could jump start a feral cat TNR program. May I suggest that the people wanting to streal from the SPOT fund turn their attention and efforts to their district Commissioners demanding they take action on the TNR program already in front of them.

  • The real Vigilantes are Animl Care and Rescue taking it upon themselves to kill helpless animals because there are too many of them. Animal Care should be kissing the asses of these rescue groups and volunteers for the terrific work they are doing to decrease the population of unwanted animals for Animal Care to kill. They should be offering them the S.P.O.T program free instead of making their lives miserable. Thank god for the Rescue groups who care about spaying and neutering these animals and getting them into homes sacrificing their personal lives to help these animals.
    They can have my S.P.O.T. coupong anyday!!!

  • @Helene – I would agree. It sounds to me like Animal Care wants complete control and volunteers are stealing their thunder and doing their jobs for them. Maybe someone will notice…

  • What an asinine argument! Those who take the time to catch feral cats and have them spayed and neutered should be applauded and receive MORE funding. They are doing a job that irresponsible people in droves are not. Every feral cat that is spayed or neutered prevents hundreds of other stray cat births.

    I have personally spent $700 out of my own pocket this year alone to do this because everyone else in the neighborhood turns a deaf ear to the problem and they have even shown up at my doorstep complaining of cats in THEIR yards for Pete sake…as though because I take the time to help, it’s MY personal responsibility. Get a grip!

    The real problem is too many irresponsible adults who were never taught that life isn’t just about taking.

    The sad thing is that many of these anti-animal people are cold hearted, selfish folks who don’t really care about much of anything except their own pleasure and gratification.

  • There is actually a TNR program for ferals. Instead of stealing funds from people who actually try to do the right thing for their pets, utilize the program geared for ferals.

    AND STOP FUCKING WHINING! stfu.

    Jeez.

  • The TNR program for ferals didn’t exist at the time the article was written.

    Human above me just posting profanity and insults while showing how ignorant and unobservant they are. Typical.

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