A pet should never be put to sleep by Broward County animal officers just because its owners can't afford to pay a county fine or fee to retrieve it, county officials say.

County commissioners Tuesday asked staff to draft a law that would give Broward Animal Care and Adoption officials flexibility to work out payment agreements with pet owners who owe the county.

It's unknown how many dogs and cats in Broward are euthanized for strictly financial reasons, but county animal advocates say it's a problem that must be solved.

Here's the scenario they want to avoid:


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A loose dog is picked up by the county. It can't be released to the family until the tab is paid. That could include a fine for having an at-large dog, a $30 initial boarding fee, plus $20 a day after that. The owner might also need to pay $25 to $35 for a rabies shot, and $15 to $55 for a current registration tag. If the pet owner can't afford it, the pet might be surrendered to the county, and ultimately, could be put to sleep.

"It's a win-win all the way around,'' the animal care division's public education coordinator, Lisa Mendheim, said of the proposed law. "A win for us, a win for the pet owner and certainly a win for the pet to be able to go back home.''

A county memo says "financial hardship has been a common problem since the economic downturn and continues to be evident, especially for elderly pet owners on fixed incomes.''

Broward County has been on a mission since April 2012 to decrease the number of dogs and cats it euthanizes. A proposal to increase taxes to pay for mass spay-and-neuter programs, though, isn't likely to come to fruition. Commissioners at a recent goal-setting retreat panned the idea of a straw-poll ballot question in November asking voters whether they'd support the tax increase.

The law would give animal officials the ability to issue a 30-day warning, instead of a citation with fines, for pet owners with outdated vaccinations or expired registration tags. Another possibility is a payment plan or full waiving of fees and fines.

In other action, Broward County Commissioners on Tuesday:

•Waived bus fares for military personnel riding on Broward County Transit buses during Broward Navy Days Fleet Week, April 28 to May 5.

•Set a hearing for April 8 to review a development approval for Pine Island Plaza, a commercial project planned on 9.9 acres of vacant cow-grazing land on the southeast corner of Stirling Road and Pine Island Road, to be anchored by WalMart. The site is in Davie, but Cooper City officials asked the county to review it.

bwallman@tribune.com or 954-356-4541