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May 13, 2019 at 8:46 pm Dog bites in Osceola County: Would your dog bite?

First, let me say that I am a serious dog lover! I grew up with dogs all around me and cannot imagine life without them. They are as much as a part of my life as taking the next breath. I could write an entire blog, maybe I will soon, on how awesome dogs really are. But for now, my attention has been drawn to the increasing number of serious dog bites occurring in Osceola County. I am also concerned by the fact that many, if not most, of them could have been avoided. And while anyone can be the victim of a dog bite, we all need to be keenly aware that most victims are children or the elderly, the most vulnerable.

We all want to believe that our beloved dog(s) would never harm anyone, especially for no apparent reason. Most owners truly believe this. The unfortunate reality is that any dog under the wrong circumstances may bite.  And just because a dog hasn't bitten, does not mean he never will. The first bite is always the first bite and the first bite is always a surprise since it has never happened before.

Osceola County Animal Services responds to over four hundred dog bites every year, year after year. Some of these bites are very serious where victims are rushed to the hospital for intensive medical care to control bleeding, repair disfiguring lacerations, prevent infection, etc. We have had child victims sent to the hospital for severe facial injuries in increasing numbers during the past year. This is a public safety issue that we all need to be aware of and do our part to prevent.

Many people believe that stray dogs running amok on the streets account for the majority of bites but that simply isn't the case. In fact, most victims know the attacking dog. They are either family members, friends who know the dog, or neighbors. Seldom does the stray dog roaming the street bite someone.   So the first reality all dog owners, that includes me, have to acknowledge is that any dog can bite no matter how loving and friendly we believe him to be. We don't always fully understand why dogs bite and determining the cause can be especially challenging when victims are children. Far too often nobody is supervising child interactions with pets. Parents have seen nothing but love and affection from Rover so assume all will be fine if they leave the child with him for just a minute. This scenario plays over dozens of times in Osceola County every year. Children are badly injured by the family dog when the adult steps away for just a minute to get a drink, use the bathroom, talk on the phone, etc. If you really want to keep your pets and children safe, make sure there is always close adult supervision when they interact. There should never be an exception since injuries can occur in a matter of a few seconds.

If Rover appears stressed or uneasy around children, please put him in his crate or in a separate room to avoid problems. Teach children how to properly and safely interact with pets. Teach your pets the boundaries but do it humanely. Seek the assistance of a reputable trainer or behaviorist if you are not sure how to properly train your dog.

The human-animal bond is a wonderful gift but like all gifts, we should not take it for granted. Dogs view their world from a dog's perspective and no matter how much "human" we think they are, they are dogs. That isn't a criticism because personally I think dogs rock! But we often make the mistake of thinking that dogs see the world the way we do and that simply isn't true. Not only is it not true, it is that belief that often leads to people being injured by the familiar pet. Please let me give you a few examples.

Considering the fact that children are most often dog bite victims, we have to wonder why? Well, the answer is quite simple. Children engage in behaviors that are perfectly normal for children such as running, yelling, screaming, tripping, falling, hugging, tugging and putting things in their mouths. These things may make the pet feel anxious, stressed, or downright afraid. When a pet, any pet, is experiencing these feelings the likelihood of a bite increases greatly. Also, children do things that dogs perceive to be threatening. This includes hugging the family dog! Yep, hugging is not a normal dog behavior and for dogs, it may be perceived as a threat, increasing the likelihood the perpetrator of the hug will be bitten. Understand, as humans, hugs are great! We hug as a way to show someone we have missed them or we love them. It is a form of affection and to comfort. Dogs that "allow" humans to hug them are likely only tolerating the hug. It isn't very likely they are enjoying it. How many of you have a photo on your phone of your child hugging Rover? Are you really seeing what your dog is trying to tell you? Is the dog completely relaxed? Is he leaning into your child or away? Is his mouth open or closed? What are his eyes saying?

We ask pet owners to be attentive to what they see in their dogs. If you notice a change in behavior, even minor, please take your pet to a veterinarian for examination. Ill or injured pets may also be more prone to biting. Far too many times I hear, we knew he hadn't been feeling well but never thought he would bite. Proper and routine veterinary care is important to your pet's health and goes a long way in preventing bites.

We ask that all pet owners and parents be responsible when children and pets interact. Constant and close supervision is needed. We want everyone to enjoy the human-animal bond with boundless enthusiasm.

For more information on how to prevent dog bites, please visit:  https://www.cdc.gov/features/dog-bite-prevention/index.html








March 28, 2019 at 10:04 pm What does "no kill" mean?

We are sometimes asked why we are not a "no-kill" organization or are chided for not being one. Simply put, the term no-kill doesn't typically mean that animals are not euthanized. What it "may" mean is that euthanasia is limited to animals that are truly suffering or are aggressive to the point they pose a threat to public safety. For shelters that only take in "selected" animals, more often non-profit organizations, low euthanasia numbers are much easier to attain. This is due to the fact they have no obligation to accept animals that are not adoptable. They can refer aggressive, unhealthy, or old animals to open access shelters, like us. So, in the interest of honestly and transparency, we are trying to move away from using "no-kill" to describe any shelter and to using "high live release" instead. And that is the direction we are heading.

Another point deserving of clarification is the 90% goal that many shelters have in order to consider themselves "no-kill" or high live release. There was never a study conducted anywhere to support the theory that 90% is the magic number that all shelters should strive for. It is entirely arbitrary and meaningless when it comes to day to day life in an animal shelter.  For example, some shelters may get a larger number of truly unhealthy, medically challenged animals than another shelter. Perhaps a large number of very ill hoarded cats are seized at one time from one location. In spite of best efforts, sicker animals may not be medically recoverable and therefore may be euthanized. Is that shelter "not as good" as the shelter that simply doesn't receive many severely ill or injured pets? And who is to say that every day, month or year, every shelter in every part of the country should be able to achieve a 90% live release rate? Is that reasonable when the number and type of animals coming in varies widely from region to regions, state to state, and shelter to shelter? And why not 95% or 88%? Again, there is no reason for 90% other than someone said it and it stuck. The goal should always be to save as many lives as possible without compromising public safety and becoming a high live release shelter.

So what does all this mean for Osceola County Animal Services? In short, we have implemented many programs and services over the course of the past 5-6 years that have increased our live release rate from an estimated 25-30% in 2012 to 74% for 2018. We expect our live release rate to be higher in 2019 and  will continue to improve until we know we have reached the pinnacle without allowing animals to suffer unnecessarily or animals to be adopted that threaten public safety. We want to reach a point where we  no longer euthanize for reasons other than severe medical conditions where animals are not responding to treatment or where injury or illness is so extreme, the animal has a poor prognosis not only for survival, but for having a reasonably good quality of life. Quality of life matters for animals and should be taken into consideration when making difficult decisions. And at some point, when quality of life is compromised enough, suffering begins.

And animals, dogs in particular, that pose a risk to the safety of public should not be released either. In Osceola County, we have had many serious bites just this year and we certainly do not want to knowingly add to those numbers. Most often the victims of serious bites and attacks are children or the elderly. In Osceola County, at least for this year, young children are most often victims and attacks have occurred without provocation. It is important to note that statistically, stray dogs account for the minority of bites and owned pets that are known to the victim account for the lion's share.

So, where will we end up? The honest answer is we don't know. We do know we have much room to increase our live release rate and are committed do doing the work to make that happen. By becoming a high live release shelter, the end result is to never have to euthanize any animal unless it is for severe medical issues or aggression.  The high release status will only be attainable as we grow, learn and adapt to the needs of our ever changing community.

We hope you will join us in the fight to help the pets and owners of Osceola County by getting involved through becoming a volunteer, being an adopter, a foster parent, a donor, or social network promoter. Osceola County Animal Services is Your community animal shelter so please help us make it the best it can be.  Thank you.

February 26, 2019 at 6:51 pm Pet identification: Is it really important?

Hello Osceola County!

Osceola County Animal Services receives over 6,000 pets and livestock animals every year. The vast majority of these animals are not wearing any form of identification and are not microchipped. And in cases where pets are microchipped, we often discover the information on the owner is no longer valid. In short, we have no way to contact an owner.

Nationally, only 5% of unidentified animals that end up in shelters are reunited with their owners. This is a sad statistic especially knowing it can easily be changed if owners would take the initiative to make sure pets are always properly identified.

Here are  a few things for pet owners to consider:

1.Never discount the possibility that a lost pet may end up in an animal shelter. Always check!

2.Complete a lost pet report immediately if you don't know where your pet has gone. You can complete a lost pet report for Osceola County by going to www.osceolacountypets.com. Once you submit a lost pet report, you will be able to view many of the animals in our shelter to see if your pet is here. Please also visit the shelter frequently as animals come in every day.

3.Visit other animal shelters in your area to look for your pet.

4. Post lost pet flyers in your neighborhood and check with nearby veterinary clinics.

5.Use local social media resources to enlist the help of others in finding your pet. Please visit LOST/FOUND PET OSCEOLA COUNTY FL to alert others of your lost pet and check posts to see if your pet has been found.

6.Enter a photo of your pet and all related information into www.FindingRover.com  This is another way to help ensure you get your best friend back home safely! Please do this now. Don't wait for your pet to become lost to register.

6. ALWAYS make sure your pet is wearing valid identification. Please never make exceptions! Valid ID means the information associated with the tag or microchip number will provide an accurate telephone number, email address and/or physical address of the owner. We also strongly encourage microchip identification as a secondary means of identification in the event the tag is lost, removed, or stolen. Keep information up to date as you move, change phones number, email addresses, etc.

Please don't take your pet's safety for granted. Don't become complacent when it comes to proper identification of your pet(s). It may literally be a life saver and is one of the easiest yet most neglected things an owner can do for a pet. If you love them, and we know you do, please make sure that pet identification is always available and valid.

As much as we love dogs and cats, we would prefer they be at home. Animal Services Officers will return lost pets who are wearing current tags back to the owner free of charge. Please make sure your pet will get a FREE RIDE HOME if he becomes lost.

January 29, 2019 at 10:16 pm How important is Your pet's rabies vaccination?

Most people in the United States don't really give rabies a second thought. That wasn't the case prior to early twentieth century when human rabies was still a constant concern and early "animal control" programs were created for the sole purpose of controlling stray dogs that were quite often rabid. Even today, worldwide, thousands of people die from rabies every single year.

And did you know that Florida is a rabies endemic state? That means rabies is present in our wildlife population all the time. Rabies is literally all around us. In the past sixteen months in Florida, we have had two people die from rabies. The first person was a woman who lived in Highlands County and was bitten by a bat. She did not seek medical attention and ultimately died from rabies. The second case involved a six year old boy who was hospitalized in Orange County after showing symptoms of illness. It was determined he too had contracted rabies from a bat. The parents did not seek medical intervention in spite of the fact they knew the boy had been exposed to the bat until the child became ill, which was too late.

In Osceola County, we had a rabid cat in the Kenansville area just a few weeks ago and today we were notified that a coyote we picked up from Sun Key Place, Kissimmee, and submitted for testing was positive for rabies as well. The coyote attacked two people and others had incidental exposure to this animal. As a result of these two incidents, several people have had or are currently undergoing rabies post exposure treatment which consists of a series of vaccines.

So what has changed in the U.S. in the past century to reduce the incidence of rabies so dramatically? One of the most helpful things we have available to us is a highly effective rabies vaccine for our pets. It is the use of this vaccine in the domestic animal population that has been essential to the reduction of rabies in domestic animals and people.  In short, keeping your pet currently vaccinated against rabies helps  keep pets safe as well as the human family members who care for them. A pet that is not currently vaccinated against rabies is at much higher risk of contracting the disease if exposed. This also puts the human population at risk.

Rabies vaccination isn't just to keep your pet safe. It keeps you, your family, your friends, and the community safe. Please keep pets rabies vaccinated!

Other tips on rabies prevention include:

  1. Don't leave pet food or garbage out over night.
  2. Teach children to enjoy wildlife from a safe distance.
  3. Do not keep wildlife as pets.
  4. Do not handle wildlife, dead or alive.
  5. Report bites or scratches to your local Health Department or Animal Service organization. Osceola County Animal Services, 407-742-8000, 3910 Old Canoe Creek Rd., St. Cloud, FL. Seek medical attention without delay!
  6. Keep pets inside to minimize or prevent interaction with wildlife.
  7. Talk with your veterinarian about vaccines for horses and other livestock.
  8. If you see sick or strange acting animals, domestic or wild, please call the number above and request an Animal Services Officer. Be sure to advise there is a sick animal.

For more information on rabies, please visit the following sites:






December 27, 2018 at 11:57 pm Animal Cruelty

We are often asked what role we play in investigating complaints of animal cruelty. What authority do we have? What laws exist in Osceola County and Florida to protect animals? Why can't we just remove an animal that does not look good? I will do my best to answer all of these questions.

Any law enforcement entity has the authority to investigate matters of animal cruelty within their respective jurisdictions including the Osceola County Sheriff's Department and local police departments such as St. Cloud and Kissimmee. In reality, Osceola County Animal Services handles most of these investigations for the simple fact that we often end up caring for and rehoming animals that are seized or relinquished in these cases. Also, we specialize in our understanding and knowledge of applicable laws. Rather than being responsible for having an understanding of many laws, like sworn law enforcement officers, we have the opportunity to focus on laws relating to animals, animal welfare in particular.

Animal Control Officers do not have authority to make arrests so when that need arises, the appropriate law enforcement entity is contacted or a warrant for an arrest is issued by the court or State Attorney's office. Animal Control Officers are authorized to enforce and investigate the local Animal Code, Chapter 4, Animals, and certain State laws pertaining to cruelty, abuse, neglect, abandonment, etc. Some of the statutes we enforce include F.S.S. 828.12, Cruelty to Animals; 828.13, Confinement of Animals without sufficient food, water, or shelter (abandonment); and 828.122, Animal Fighting and Baiting. You can find these statutes by going to www.onlinesunshine.org, clicking on Florida Statutes, then scrolling to the appropriate chapter, 828.  You can find the entire Osceola County Animal Code by going to www.municode.com, click on library, then Florida, then Osceola County, then Chapter 4, Animals.

Believe it or not, Florida is ranked relatively high in its laws to protect animals by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, 14th, nationwide. While we certainly have room for improvement, I think most people believe that our laws are woefully inadequate. I think obstacles to prosecution are more often the problem than a lack of good laws. Those obstacles may include the following:

1) A reluctance to report neglect/cruelty. This can occur for many reasons, not the least of which is fear of retribution from the alleged perpetrator.

2) Lack of evidence. A case cannot be filed on the basis of "belief" that a violation of the criminal statute has occurred but rather we must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime has occurred. We are talking about the potential for people to go to jail so the burden of proof must be high.

3) False perceptions is another issue we face. Things are not always as they seem. For example, just because you see a thin dog does not mean the owner is neglecting it. Perhaps the dog is old and under the care of a licensed veterinarian. A thin animal doesn't necessary mean the animal is not being adequately fed, or is being intentionally starved. Thinness is caused by variety of issues, some of which can be cured and others that cannot.

Our job is to find out why the animal is thin and only through a proper investigation will we have that answer.  We have to be objective and open minded in our investigations  and do not have the luxury of making assumptions.

We deal with many people who are frustrated when they learn we do not have the authority to "just pick up an animal" because the caller thinks he/she is not being properly cared for. Good or bad, animals are viewed as property under existing law and as such, owners have certain rights. If a circumstance is serious enough, we have the ability to obtain a pick-up warrant which allows us to seize animals specifically described in the order. It takes time to get enough evidence to obtain such a warrant. There "may" be exceptions for exigent circumstances when an animal in a dire situation that would likely result in death unless immediate intervention is provided. Those situations are very few and far between and when time allows, we always get the proper pick up warrant.

We take complaints of animal neglect and abuse very seriously and with the help of other local law enforcement organizations and the State Attorneys office, we have enjoyed great success in holding those that mistreat animals accountable for their actions.

Please report suspected animal abuse or neglect in Osceola County to 407-742-8000. Thank you.




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