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How Pet-Friendly Is Florida in 2024? Animal Shelters, Pet Welfare, & Stats

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By Misty Layne

young woman lying at home with her dog and cat

In light of International Animal Rights Day on the 10th of December, we wanted to provide an ode to the animal shelters of Florida and the amazing work they do to support animals in need. We also commend their fight for animal rights.

We also want to highlight some important animal welfare laws in Florida that aim to keep our furry friends safe and healthy. We’ll also be looking at all the common animals and pets found in the Sunshine State and which animals are legal and illegal to own.

Top 7 Florida Animal Shelters to Support

Disclaimer: We analyzed a few large, no-kill shelters in Florida with data and impact info. Not all shelters were considered because of limited data provided at the time research was conducted. We looked at shelters with a minimal total intake of 1000 animals for 2022.

1. Humane Society of Tampa Bay

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The Humane Society of Tampa Bay started in 1912 and is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that works independently of the Humane Society of the United States. This shelter offers a wealth of services, including sheltering at-risk and homeless animals, hospital services, adoption services, and TNVR (trap, neuter/spay, vaccinate, and release) services. “Trap, neuter, and release programs are efforts to reduce feral animal populations. However, some conservationists disagree with such programs being a solution to wildlife predation by feral cats,” explains Dr. Paola Cuevas MVZ of Hepper. The Humane Society also offers a fantastic program called “Animeals,” which delivers pet food for pets belonging to homebound and elderly citizens. In 2022, they took in 14,464 cats and dogs with a 92% save rate. In 2019, the shelter broke ground on a facility that is 50,000 square feet, which significantly increased its capacity to intake animals and save more lives.

This shelter provides a plethora of educational programs and services, including Critter Camp, family volunteer days, field trips, Paws for Literacy, and more. The organization and its animals would love to have you partner with them to save lives and educate the local community! 


2. Jacksonville Humane Society

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The Jacksonville Humane Society is also a 501(c)(3) non-profit and began in 1885. Their mission statement states they “provide care, comfort, and compassion to animals in need while engaging the hearts, hands, and minds of their community to bring about an end to the killing of abandoned and orphaned shelter animals.” The Jacksonville Humane Society accomplishes this by offering the community a range of services like low-cost veterinary care, support for pet parents, training classes for the public, youth programs, pet adoption, and resources for animals that are lost and found.

The Jacksonville Humane Society took in 8,470 animals in 2022 with a saving rate of 94%. They became a no-kill organization in 2005, and thanks to a partnership with First Coast No More Homeless Pets and Animal Care & Protective Services, they were able to have Jacksonville declared a no-kill city in 2014 because of the 90% combined live release rate of those sheltering organizations.

This organization doesn’t receive government funding, so all of their work depends on donations and support from the community.


3. Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League

How Pet Friendly is Florida - Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League
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This no-kill, 501(c)(3) non-profit rescue organization aims to provide shelter to homeless, lost, and unwanted animals and protect, care for, and locate quality homes for neglected and homeless companion animals. They also offer medical, neutering, and spaying services for companion animals and advocate for community involvement, education, and animal welfare to grow the bond between animals and people.

The organization had an intake of 6,148 animals in 2022, with a live release rate of 95%. However, 35,347 animals benefited from services provided by The Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League in 2022. The free food bank they provide—Peggy’s Pantry Food Bank—helped 12,696 pets fed through it!


4. Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando

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The Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando is a 501(c) non-profit organization started in 1937. They aim to offer low-cost spay and neuter, shelter for homeless animals, volunteer and education programs, and public veterinary clinics. One program they offer is the donation-based Pet Food Pantry for pet parents who need help obtaining food for their animals. They had an intake of 4,578 animals in 2022, with an average live release rate of 99%.

The animals that come through the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando receive shelter, medical care, and food until they find their forever homes. The shelter has a quick turnaround rate; cats typically stay about 15 days, while dogs only stay for eight days.


5. SPCA Florida

How Pet Friendly is Florida - SPCA Florida
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SPCA Florida began in 1979 and is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. With a mission of engaging the local community in the well-being and welfare of animals to eliminate animal suffering, SPCA Florida took in 4,084 animals in 2022 and has a yearly save rate of 96%. As a no-kill organization, they only euthanize for medical reasons. Besides providing shelter for unhomed animals, this organization is responsible for sterilizing 589 kittens and adult cats via their low-cost Spay Neuter Assistance Program (SNAP).

SPCA Florida has a state-of-the-art vet facility that is open to the public and aids 20,000 patients annually. One of the more fun and unique programs they offer is Doggie Dates, where people can take adoptable dogs out on a “date” for a few hours. This program is billed as an excellent opportunity for people to find out what it’s like to own a dog before actually getting one, those who need some companionship for a bit, and those who aren’t able to have their own dog.


6. Humane Society of Sarasota County

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The Humane Society of Sarasota County is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization started in 1952 that cares for and finds homes for animals without them. They also assist in enforcing ordinances and laws that protect animals and encourage the community to be kind toward animals. In 2022, they took in 2,466 animals with a 98.2% save rate. Of the animals brought to them in 2022, 2,168 were adopted!

The Humane Society of Sarasota County works with the community to try and lower the rate of euthanasia in Sarasota County, such as by collaborating with open-admission shelters in the area so at-risk animals are transferred to The Humane Society of Sarasota County instead of being euthanized. And in 2022, this organization was responsible for spaying/neutering, vaccinating, and releasing 343 cats and distributing 7,163 pounds of pet food for low-income pet owners.


7. Humane Society Naples

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The Humane Society Naples is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that began in 1960. The goal of this organization is to advocate for responsible pet ownership, shelter those animals who need it, and find forever homes for them. To ensure that everyone in their community has the resources they need, the Humane Society Naples has created a team that advocates for all people and animals in all areas of the community. In 2022, this organization took in 2,345 animals with a 96.8% live release rate.

Not only are thousands of animals in the community served each year via the Humane Society Naples sheltering and adopting services, but they are also served via the organization’s partnerships with the Patty and Jay Baker Mobile Veterinary Clinic and the Humane Society Naples Veterinary Clinic. One thousand five hundred three cats and dogs were spayed and neutered in 2022 as part of their spaying and neutering programs aimed at reducing overpopulation. The Humane Society Naples also provides services to distribute pet food for low-income pet parents and offers behavioral training services and crisis boarding.

Animal Shelters Terminology & Definitions

Before we look at the animal shelters in Florida that are doing fantastic things and deserve support, let’s clarify the definitions of a few standard shelter-related terms.

Animal Shelter vs Animal Rescue

What’s the difference between an animal shelter and an animal rescue? An animal shelter is an organization that is funded by the city, town, or state where it is located. An animal rescue is a non-profit organization run by private groups or individuals. It relies on personal funds or donations to operate rather than government funds. An animal rescue may also be specialized (such as only providing services for a specific dog breed).

Government Shelter vs Non-Profit Animal Shelter

If an animal rescue is a non-profit organization, wouldn’t a non-profit animal shelter be the same? Not exactly. While the government doesn’t fund a non-profit animal shelter, these shelters are usually run by organizations such as the Humane Society or SPCA. Non-profit shelters typically take in any animal that comes their way and provide various pet-related services, not just adoption.

Meanwhile, a government shelter does many of the same things—takes stray animals in and offers various services, such as adoption and animal control—but it is funded by the government.

Open-Door Shelter vs Non-Open-Door Shelter

An open-door shelter is a shelter that has an open-door policy regarding animals. They will accept any animal at any time in any condition. In contrast, a non-open-door shelter has limitations on the animals they will accept. They may only take in a certain number of animals a month, only accept certain breeds, or refuse animals that are ill or have behavioral issues.

Female worker working in animal shelter
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Intake, Live Outcome & Other Outcome

Intake refers to how an animal makes their way to a shelter. Then there are outcomes, or what happens to an animal that enters a shelter. Here’s a look at intake and outcome terms.

Intake: Surrendered, Strays, Transferred, Owner Intended Euthanasia, Other

  • Surrendered animals are the ones given to a shelter by their owners. This could be because they can no longer financially care for their pet, are having behavioral issues with the animal, or any number of reasons.
  • Strays refer to animals found on the streets. They could be lost pets or an animal such as a feral cat.
  • Transferred animals are those that come from another shelter or organization, whether that be from within the same state, out-of-state, or even from another country.
  • Sometimes, people bring their pets to a shelter with the intent of having them euthanized (owner-intended euthanasia). This could be because their pet is ill and euthanization is the best option or because there is a behavioral problem with the animal.
  • Other forms of intake include impound and seizure, where animals are put in a shelter for protective custody or were seized during an animal cruelty case, animals born inside the shelter, or anything else not covered above.

Live Outcome: Adoption, Returned to Owner, Returned to Field, Transferred, Other

Live outcomes refer to animals that leave a shelter alive.

  • Adopted pets are, of course, those who are adopted. (This does not count animals being fostered.)
  • Returned-to-owner pets are ones who are returned to their owner.
  • Animals Returned to Field (RTF) are captured, spayed, or neutered, then released back where they were found (or captured, altered to altered, and re-released). This usually applies to felines.
  • Other live outcomes include transfer to other organizations and anything not covered above that would result in an animal leaving a shelter alive.

Other Outcomes: Died in Care, Lost in Care, Owner Intended Euthanasia, Shelter Euthanasia

And then there are the other outcomes that don’t result in a live outcome.

  • Animals who died in care are ones who died while in the shelter (but not because they were euthanized).
  • Those lost in care might not have had their outcome properly recorded, so no one is sure what happened to them, or they might have escaped from the shelter. Essentially, what happened to them is not known.
  • The owner intended euthanasia (see Intake).
  • Finally, shelter euthanasia is euthanasia performed without the request of the owner. Paola Cuevas, Veterinarian, MVZ & Behaviorist shares that “shelter euthanasia is considerably cheaper than at private practices. Owners in a difficult economic situation appreciate the support of such organizations to assist them in ending their pets suffering a terrible quality of life due to non-treatable conditions.”
a german shepherd dog with his owner in the shelter
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What Is a “Live Release Rate”?

A live release rate refers to the number of cats and dogs from shelters that are adopted or returned to their owners versus euthanized.

No-Kill Shelter vs Kill Shelter

No-kill shelters aim to have a 90% or higher live release rate. To meet this goal, they may have a non-open-door policy that results in them taking in fewer animals.

Kill shelters usually have an open-door policy, which means they don’t always have room for all the animals coming in. As a result, they may have to euthanize animals based on how long the animal has been staying at the shelter. Also, because these types of shelters accept sick animals, as well as healthy ones, they may need to euthanize those who have contagious illnesses.

Disclaimer: Kill shelters aren’t necessarily pro-killing; many are forced to euthanize fatally injured, severely sick, and extremely dangerous animals. In some cases, healthy animals also sadly get euthanized due to space and resource limitations. On the other hand, no-kill shelters don’t indicate that 0 animals die in their care. “No-kill” indicates that no adoptable animals will be euthanized due to space and resource limitations. It’s important to note that not all no-kill shelters are open-door shelters, meaning they could turn away animals that are considered not adoptable.

Florida Animal Shelter Statistics 2019–2022

Disclaimer: This info was obtained from shelteranimalscount.org and only represents 59 animal shelters in Florida out of an estimated 415 as of September 24, 2023. This graph does not aim to represent the collective Live Release Rate of Florida as a whole but rather the progress of 59 shelters (that submit their impact reports to Shelter Animals Count) over a period of time.

How Pet Friendly is Florida - Florida Animal Shelter Live Release Rates
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Here’s a closer look at the number of dogs and cats ending up at shelters in Florida from 2019 to 2022 and the outcomes for these animals. We’ve broken it down by year for cats and dogs, respectively, and you’ll find the graphs beneath.

2019 Feline Intake Statistics

  • 73,724 total cats taken in
  • 15,186 surrendered by owners
  • 42,121 were strays
  • 9,387 transferred from other places
  • 2,461 brought for owner-intended euthanasia
  • 3,939 other kinds of intakes

2019 Feline Live Outcome Statistics

  • 58,716 total live outcomes
  • 40,201 cats adopted
  • 1,121 returned to owners
  • 6,778 returned to field (RTF)
  • 9,022 transferred out
  • 1,583 other live outcomes

2019 Feline Other Outcome Statistics

  • 741 total other outcomes
  • 2,362 died in shelter care
  • 192 lost in care
  • 1,611 owners intended euthanasia
  • 10,576 euthanized by shelters

The live release rate for felines in 2019 ended up being 79.64%.

How did canines fare in 2019?

2019 Canine Intake Statistics

  • 62,473 total dogs taken in
  • 16,545 surrendered by owners
  • 23,150 were strays
  • 13,234 transferred from other places
  • 4,298 brought for owner-intended euthanasia
  • 5,246 other kinds of intakes

2019 Canine Live Outcome Statistics

  • 55,051 total live outcomes
  • 37,343 dogs adopted
  • 8,178 returned to owners
  • 9 RTF
  • 8,071 transferred out
  • 1,450 other live outcomes

2019 Canine Other Outcome Statistics

  • 7,314 total other outcomes
  • 380 died in shelter care
  • 43 lost in care
  • 3,618 owner-intended euthanasia
  • 3,273 euthanized by shelters

The live release rate for canines in 2019 ended up at 88.11%. 

How did 2020 look for the cats and dogs brought into Florida shelters? The good news was that this year saw higher live release rates for both!

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2020 Feline Intake Statistics

  • 65,732 total cats taken in
  • 14,130 surrendered by owners
  • 37,365 were strays
  • 9,145 transferred from other places
  • 1,687 brought for owner-intended euthanasia
  • 3,405 other kinds of intakes

2020 Feline Live Outcome Statistics

  • 56,941 total live outcomes
  • 39,063 cats adopted
  • 1,003 returned to owners
  • 7,650 RTF
  • 8,405 transferred out
  • 820 other live outcomes

2020 Feline Other Outcome Statistics

  • 8,518 total other outcomes
  • 1,705 died in shelter care
  • 272 lost in care
  • 1,045 owner-intended euthanasia
  • 5,496 euthanized by shelters

The live release rate for felines in 2020 ended up being 86.62%.

How did canines fare in 2020?

2020 Canine Intake Statistics

  • 49,104 total dogs taken in
  • 12,083 surrendered by owners
  • 17,903 were strays
  • 11,362 transferred from other places
  • 2,858 brought for owner-intended euthanasia
  • 4,898 other kinds of intakes

2020 Canine Live Outcome Statistics

  • 44,504 total live outcomes
  • 29,484 dogs adopted
  • 6,801 returned to owners
  • 0 RTF
  • 6,586 transferred out
  • 1,633 other live outcomes

2020 Canine Other Outcome Statistics

  • 4,768 total other outcomes
  • 242 died in shelter care
  • 80 lost in care
  • 2,415 owner-intended euthanasia
  • 2,031 euthanized by shelters

The live release rate for canines in 2020 ended up at 90.63%.

Unfortunately, the live release rate for cats and dogs decreased slightly in 2021. There were also more feline intakes this year than the previous one.

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2021 Feline Intake Statistics

  • 72,411 total cats taken in
  • 16,057 surrendered by owners
  • 41,960 were strays
  • 8,424 transferred from other places
  • 1,546 brought for owner-intended euthanasia
  • 4,424 other kinds of intakes

2021 Feline Live Outcome Statistics

  • 62,189 total live outcomes
  • 43,707 cats adopted
  • 1,274 returned to owners
  • 7,980 RTF
  • 7,782 transferred out
  • 1,446 other live outcomes

2021 Feline Other Outcome Statistics

  • 9,703 total other outcomes
  • 2,029 died in shelter care
  • 129 lost in care
  • 943 owner-intended euthanasia
  • 6,602 euthanized by shelters

The live release rate for felines in 2021 ended up being 85.88%.

Intakes for canines were also up in 2021, but their live release rate didn’t go down as much as for felines. How did canines fare in 2021?

2021 Canine Intake Statistics

  • 52,313 total dogs taken in
  • 13,809 surrendered by owners
  • 19,338 were strays
  • 10,541 transferred from other places
  • 2,651 brought for owner-intended euthanasia
  • 5,974 other kinds of intakes

2021 Canine Live Outcome Statistics

  • 47,275 total live outcomes
  • 30,586 dogs adopted
  • 7,612 returned to owners
  • 1 RTF
  • 6,514 transferred out
  • 2,562 other live outcomes

2021 Canine Other Outcome Statistics

  • 4,876 total other outcomes
  • 281 died in shelter care
  • 30 lost in care
  • 2,203 owners-intended euthanasia
  • 2,362 euthanized by shelters

The live release rate for canines in 2021 ended up at 90.36%.

The live release rate for felines went up in 2022, but for canines, it dropped.

Female volunteer with homeless dog at animal shelter outdoors
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2022 Feline Intake Statistics

  • 71,292 total cats taken in
  • 15,129 surrendered by owners
  • 40,967 were strays
  • 9,836 transferred from other places
  • 905 brought for owner-intended euthanasia
  • 4,455 other kinds of intakes

2022 Feline Live Outcome Statistics

  • 61,525 total live outcomes
  • 43,358 cats adopted
  • 1,141 returned to owners
  • 7,802 RTF
  • 7,432 transferred out
  • 1,792 other live outcomes

2022 Feline Other Outcome Statistics

  • 7,658 total other outcomes
  • 1,342 died in shelter care
  • 75 lost in care
  • 705 owner-intended euthanasia
  • 5,536 euthanized by shelters

The live release rate for felines in 2022 ended up being 86.30%.

How else did canines fare in 2022 besides the decreased live release rate?

2022 Canine Intake Statistics

  • 49,116 total dogs taken in
  • 13,726 surrendered by owners
  • 19,531 were strays
  • 8,585 transferred from other places
  • 2,047 brought for owner-intended euthanasia
  • 5,227 other kinds of intakes

2022 Canine Live Outcome Statistics

  • 43,281 total live outcomes
  • 28,858 dogs adopted
  • 6,940 returned to owners
  • 1 RTF
  • 6,062 transferred out
  • 1,420 other live outcomes

2022 Canine Other Outcome Statistics

  • 4,762 total other outcomes
  • 236 died in shelter care
  • 13 lost in care
  • 1,828 owner-intended euthanasia
  • 2,685 euthanized by shelters

The live release rate for canines in 2022 ended up at 88.11%.

And here’s a look at the total intakes, live outcomes, and live release rates for both cats and dogs from 2019 to 2022. Overall, the live release rate has increased over the years, but there was a slight dip from 2021 to 2022.

woman holding cat
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Total Intake Numbers By Year

  • For 2019, intake totaled 136,197
  • For 2020, intake totaled 114,836
  • For 2021, intake totaled 124,724
  • For 2022, intake totaled 120,408

Total Live Outcome Numbers By Year

  • For 2019, live outcomes totaled 113,767
  • For 2020, live outcomes totaled 101,445
  • For 2021, live outcomes totaled 109,464
  • For 2022, live outcomes totaled 104,806

Live Release Rate By Year

  • For 2019, 83.53%
  • For 2020, 88.33%
  • For 2021, 87.76%
  • For 2022, 87.04%
“It just takes a glimpse at the statistics to realize that adopting a pet from a shelter is the way to go. We have too many animals in need of a home and family love.”Dr. Paola Cuevas, Veterinarian, MVZ & Behaviorist

Florida Pet Welfare Laws to Know About

The state of Florida takes cruelty towards animals seriously and has many laws and statutes addressing the issue. Here is a list of things that are illegal and punishable by state law in Florida:

  • Unnecessarily mutilating, tormenting, or killing an animal (Fla. Stats. § 828.02 (2022).)
  • Abandoning an injured or ill animal to die (Fla. Stats. § 828.13(2)(c), (3) (2022).)
  • Abandoning an animal to malnutrition or injury (Fla. Stats. § 828.13(2)(c), (3) (2022).)
  • Leaving an animal without proper shelter, food, protection, water, or care in public or on a street (Fla. Stats. § 828.13(2)(c), (3) (2022).)
  • Confining an animal without providing them enough room to move and exercise, fresh air, and “good and wholesome” water and food (Fla. Stats. § 828.13(2)(a), (b) (2022).)
  • Overdriving or overloading an animal (Fla. Stats. § 828.12 (1) (2022).)
  • Depriving an animal of shelter, water, and food (Fla. Stats. § 828.12 (1) (2022).)
  • Carrying an animal in or on a vehicle in a way that is inhumane or cruel (such as not ensuring an animal’s safety while traveling) (Fla. Stats. § 828.12 (1) (2022).)
  • Poisoning an animal (pet or otherwise) deliberately (the only exception to this is poisoning rats and other pests; however, you can only do this on your property. Placing poison for pests elsewhere counts as breaking this law, as animals other than the intended pests could consume it.) (Fla. Stats. § 828.08 (2022).)
  • Being involved in any animal “baiting” or fighting (this includes attending and betting on animal fights, as well as organizing fights) (Fla. Stats. § 828.122 (2022).)
  • Harming, interfering with, or killing service animals (this applies not only to yourself but to any dogs you own, too; if your dog attacks a service animal, you will be held responsible) (Fla. Stats. § 413:081 (2022).)
  • Acting (or failing to act) in an intentional manner that leads to the death or repeated, excessive, or unnecessary suffering and pain of an animal (Fla. Stats § 828.12(2) (2022).)
  • Leaving your pet in a car when it’s hot outside (Florida lets Good Samaritans break into vehicles that are locked containing animals in distress if the person breaking in believes it to be necessary and that saving them in another way is not possible; this state is one of the few that allows this.) (Fla. Stats. § 768.139 (2022).)
  • Killing a cat or dog for their pelt, or intent to kill a cat or dog for their pelt, or selling, buying, possessing the pelt of a cat or dog, or engaging with someone who is a dealer for such (Fla. Stats. § 828.123 (2022).)

What are the consequences of breaking the laws and statutes above? Most of these are misdemeanor offenses, so they are punishable by either a $5,000 fine, up to 365 days in jail, or both.

However, a few offenses on this list are felonies rather than misdemeanors. First-degree felony animal cruelty is punishable by either a $5,000 fine, up to 60 months in prison, or both of these things. Being found guilty of felony animal cruelty a second time will see a person with a minimum of 6 months in jail and a mandatory fine of $5,000. Third-degree felony animal cruelty can result in 60 months in jail, a $10,000 fine, or both.

There are also other consequences. Those who have been convicted of torturing an animal intentionally must receive mandatory anger management or psychological counseling, plus they will receive a fine of $2,500. If a service animal was involved in an animal cruelty offense, then the person found guilty must fully compensate the service animal’s owner. This includes restitution for lost wages while the person was out a service animal, veterinary expenses, and any costs associated with getting and training a new service animal.

Finally, those convicted of animal cruelty may be prohibited from having any kind of pet for an amount of time.

cute dog housed in a cage at the public shelter
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“Animal cruelty, like any other act of cruelty, is an unfortunate result of the dark side of humanity. Until we live in a world where all living creatures are respected and treated with love, the animal laws are there to protect and speak for those without a voice.”Dr. Paola Cuevas, Veterinarian, MVZ & Behaviorist

How to Report Animal Abuse and Cruelty

How Pet Friendly is Florida - How to Report Animal Cruelty in the State of Florida
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How does one report animal abuse and cruelty in Florida? It depends on where in the state you live and the kind of animal you’re reporting as being abused. Florida’s animal cruelty laws and statutes don’t only apply to domestic animals such as cats and dogs. They also apply to wild animals.

If you believe you’ve seen the abuse of a wild animal, which may include illegal fishing, illegal hunting, and the killing or containment of a species that is protected (or any other violation of environmental or wildlife law), you should report this to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. You can contact them at (888) 404-3922.

For abuse or cruelty of domestic animals, it’s best to contact your county’s animal control department about the situation. The Animal Rights Foundation of Florida has a list of links to most counties’ animal services; you can find it here. If your county isn’t listed here or you are unable to locate the website or number for animal services in your location, you’ll probably need to go through your local sheriff’s office.

When reporting animal cruelty, you may want to try to obtain evidence, such as a photo of a dog chained up or even a video of an incident. However, while visual evidence may be ideal, please do not put yourself in danger to get evidence. Confronting a person who is abusing an animal or trespassing on private property to get photos could end with you getting hurt or in trouble.

If the situation involving animal abuse is an immediate emergency, please call 911! 

Common Animals & Pets Found in Florida

How Pet Friendly is Florida - Common Animals and Pets Found in Florida
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Now that you know more about the statistics of animal shelters in the state of Florida and the laws governing animal cruelty, you might be curious about some of the most common animals and pets found in Florida.

When it comes to pets, this state has a 56% pet ownership rate (which ranks them as #34 in the U.S. for pet ownership rate). You’d be correct in thinking that cats and dogs are the most owned pets in the state, too, with canines being the most common. In 2020, 39.8% of households had dogs, while 24.2% had cats. That’s a lot of cats and dogs! But of all those felines and canines, a total of 357,418 ended up in shelters in 2021, with the majority of that being made up of cats. (Over half of these intakes were strays or animals found roaming the streets.)

What are the next most common pets to own in Florida, after cats and dogs? Birds, fish, and reptiles! And speaking of reptiles, quite a few snakes can be found in Florida, both wild and those kept as pets. Just a few of the venomous and non-venomous snakes one can see in Florida include:

  • The Florida brown snake
  • Red corn snake
  • Dusky pygmy rattlesnake
  • Eastern diamond-backed rattlesnake
  • Glossy swamp snake
  • Harlequin coral snake

Then, there are all the amazing wild animals (other than snakes) living in Florida.

For example, the state animal of Florida is the Florida Panther, which was chosen as such in 1982 and is the most endangered of all the symbols of Florida. This large cat can end up being 6 feet or longer when fully grown and typically has a tail that is crooked. You can also recognize these felines by the patch of back fur that looks similar to a cowlick. They’ve become endangered due to their habitats being destroyed.

The state reptile of Florida is, of course, the American Alligator, which was picked in 1987 as a representation of the swamps and wilderness found in Florida. These alligators can be found throughout the state of Florida; though once endangered, they’ve since managed to repopulate to the point where they are no longer in trouble. One thing to know about this animal is that it is against state statute to feed them (not to mention trying to feed an alligator is dangerous)!

Florida also has a state bird, the Mockingbird, which was designated as such in 1927. This bird is also the state bird of four other states! These birds are excellent mimics and songbirds; they enjoy singing so much they may spend the entire night doing so. The Mockingbird enjoys a diet of weed seeds and insects, which makes the bird particularly useful to humans.

Of course, being a state surrounded by water, Florida also has official state fish and marine mammals.

The state saltwater fish is the sailfish, which was adopted as such in 1975 because Florida is known for its amazing sailfishing. You’ll find this fish hanging around Florida waters in the winter months, as this is when they migrate to warmer waters. Did you know? The Sailfish can swim up to 60 mph!

There’s also a state freshwater fish, the Largemouth Bass, also adopted in 1975; this fish is known for growing to exceptionally large sizes in Florida. It is also one of the most prized gamefish in the United States.

Then, there are the marine mammals. The Manatee is the state marine mammal, again chosen as such in 1975. These mammals are threatened, but Florida created the Manatee Sanctuary Act in 1978 to aid in keeping them safer.

Finally, there’s the state saltwater mammal, the porpoise or dolphin. The porpoise or dolphin was picked in 1975, too; the most commonly found in Florida is the Bottlenose dolphin.

There is a plethora of other common wild animals found in the state of Florida, including the Florida Black Bear, Meadow Vole, Southern Flying Squirrel, Swamp Rabbit, and Key Deer.

Pets That Are Legal & Illegal to Own in Florida

Florida has several classes for which animals can legally be kept as pets. Some animals are prohibited or illegal entirely as they are non-native species. Then, some animals are illegal to have as pets (but not illegal to have in the state); most of these are self-explanatory as to why they aren’t suitable as pets. A few animals require a permit if you want to keep them as pets. To get that permit, though, you must meet several requirements, such as a documented 1,000 hours of working experience with the animal and reference letters. And finally, there are the animals that don’t require any permits or anything special to be kept as pets. Below, you’ll find (non-exhaustive) lists of each of these classes of animals!

Illegal/Prohibited

  • Specific aquatic invertebrates, freshwater fish, and marine species
  • Java sparrow
  • Red-billed quelea
  • Rosy/pink starling
  • Brown tree snake
  • Green anaconda
  • Green Iguana
  • Indian or Burmese python
  • Nile monitor
  • Reticulated python
  • Tegus
  • Yellow anaconda
  • Emin’s giant pouched rat
  • Flying foxes
  • Indian wild dog
  • Meerkats
  • Mongooses

Class I Wildlife (Illegal to Have as a Pet)

  • Baboons
  • Bears
  • Cape buffalos
  • Cheetahs
  • Chimpanzees
  • Cougars, panthers
  • Crocodiles (except dwarf and Congo)
  • Elephants
  • Gorillas
  • Hippopotamuses
  • Hyenas
  • Jaguars
  • Komodo dragons
  • Leopards
  • Lions
  • Orangutans
  • Rhinoceros
  • Snow leopards
  • Tigers
tiger in the wild
Image Credit: Tafhimul Islam Shawon, Shutterstock

Class II Wildlife (Can Be Kept as a Pet with a Permit)

  • African golden cats
  • Alligator
  • American badgers
  • Bobcats
  • Caimans (except black caimans)
  • Caracals
  • Clouded leopards
  • Dwarf crocodiles
  • European/Canadian lynx
  • Fishing cats
  • Giraffes
  • Honey badgers
  • Howler monkeys
  • Ocelots
  • Ostrich
  • Servals

Perfectly Legal & No Permit Needed

  • Canaries
  • Chipmunks
  • Domestic cats
  • Domestic dogs
  • Domestic ferrets
  • Gerbils
  • Guinea pigs
  • Hamsters
  • Hedgehogs
  • Honey possums
  • Lovebirds
  • Mice
  • Moles
  • Non-venomous and unprotected reptiles or amphibians
  • Parrots
  • Rabbits
  • Rats
  • Shrews
  • Squirrels
  • Sugar gliders

Disclaimer: Wild animals (even abandoned, injured, or orphaned native animals) are NEVER eligible to be kept as pets. Permits for personal pets are only given for animals legally obtained from a permitted source and captive-bred. If you find an abandoned, injured, or orphaned wild animal, you should bring it to a permitted wildlife rehabilitator who knows how to properly rehabilitate the animal immediately. It is against the law to care for wildlife that is abandoned, injured, or orphaned any longer than the time it takes you to bring them to a wildlife rehabilitator.

Conclusion

Animal shelters in Florida take in a lot of cats and dogs each year, but their live release rate has seen improvement over time, without a doubt. With a bit of support from the community and people like you, live outcomes for animal shelters should improve even more in the future. There are other ways to help support animals in the state of Florida other than supporting shelters. One excellent way to do so is to be aware of the animal cruelty laws in your area and report any suspected animal abuse. Hopefully, Florida will continue to see better outcomes and care for animals in the state!


Featured Image Credit: Olezzo, Shutterstock

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