Sarasota city commissioners direct staff to draft ordinance calling for no-kill animal shelters

City Zoning Code contains no definition or provision for animal shelters

 At the request this week of Sarasota City Commissioner Erik Arroyo — with unanimous support of his colleagues — City Attorney Robert Fournier will prepare an ordinance to ensure that only no-kill animal shelters would be allowed in the city.

The Agenda Request Form for that item of new business on the commission’s May 1 agenda explained that “ ‘animal shelter’ is not defined or a use in the [city] Zoning Code. However, the keeping of animals for a commercial purpose is allowed in a kennel which allows for the breeding, boarding, training and selling of animals.”

During his May 1 presentation, Arroyo noted that the issue of no-kill shelters “touches on the hearts of many in our community … First and foremost,” he added, “the core principle of animal welfare should be guiding our decision making.”

Arroyo then pointed out, “Animals, like humans, are sentient beings, capable of feeling pain, fear, suffering. It is our moral obligation to be sure they are treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve.”

By banning shelters where animals can be put down, he continued, the commissioners would be “taking a stand for compassion.”

Then Arroyo told his colleagues, “There’s been rumblings of some of these businesses coming back to Sarasota, especially as some of the other ones are going out of business.” If the commissioners amend the Zoning Code to outlaw killing shelters within the city limits, he said, “We are opening the door to innovative and humane solutions for managing our city’s abandoned animals.”

Arroyo also explained that the no-kill commitment, based on his research, provides for at least 90% of the animals taken into a shelter to continue to live. The goal, he said, is “finding them loving, permanent homes.”

No-kill shelters, he continued, concentrate on “aggressive adoption programs, comprehensive behavioral rehabilitation and partnering with rescue organizations.”

He concluded his presentation by telling his colleagues, “Long story short: I think we just need to add a line [to the Zoning Code]” to provide for no-kill shelters.

“I support the objective,” Commissioner Debbie Trice immediately responded. However, she said she wanted to be certain that the amendment “would not prevent euthanasia for medical reasons” and that the new Zoning Code language would not restrict veterinarians from putting down animals when that is necessary.

Arroyo assured her that that he agreed with her on those points.

City Attorney Fournier responded that he believed he and his staff could undertake research on the issue. Limited work he already had done, he said, indicated that the primary advocacy group for no-kill shelters does “acknowledge that there are some pets that do suffer from medical or behavioral issues that do compromise their quality of life and prevent them from being re-homed.”

He concurred with Arroyo that the number of such animals with which a no-kill shelter contends generally is in the 10% range. Fournier added that he needed to figure out the best way to address that in the ordinance.

Then Fournier asked the commissioners whether they wanted to review a draft of the ordinance before he advertised it for a public hearing.

No one indicated a desire for such an advance review. Therefore, Fournier said he would make sure that all of them had sufficient back-up information for such a hearing.

He did point out, as well, that the city’s Planning Board would need to address the ordinance prior to the City Commission vote.

Arroyo made the formal motion to instruct staff to draft the amendment to prohibit killing animal shelters in the city, and Vice Mayor Liz Alpert seconded it.