by Bailey White
In January 2001, when Mayor John Delaney was busy organizing a task force to deal with Jacksonville’s pet population problems, Rick DuCharme was busy with his job as the district manager for Landoll Corporation. When DuCharme read about the task force, he felt compelled to respond.
“I read about it in the paper and wrote a letter asking if I could be a part of it,” he said.
DuCharme, an Iowa native, had seen problems with animal control during his years of working as a volunteer at various shelters around the city. It bothered him that so many animals were killed each year because of overpopulation, especially when he learned that places such as New Hampshire and San Francisco were dealing with the same problem in a different way.
“What they were doing with no-kill policies was making a difference,” said DuCharme. “I had realized there was a problem, seen the solution and decided that knowing that, I would be guilty if I didn’t do something about it.”
DuCharme said he “constantly badgered” the City to implement spay and neuter programs.
“Around 20,000 dogs and cats are killed in the city each year,” he said. “I think people look the other way because they think we have no other solution. But there is another option.”
The task force spent six months studying the problems, produced a 18-page report and made several recommendations.
Since then, SpayJax, a City-funded program, has been initiated to target low income pet owners with the opportunity to spay or neuter their pet for free. The Jacksonville Veterinary Medical Society is collaborating with the City on the effort.
Though the task force was disbanded, DuCharme has continued his efforts to help Jacksonville’s animals.
After months of routine volunteer work, he formed First Coast No More Homeless Pets, Inc., a volunteer organization dedicated to the adoption and sterilization of area dogs and cats, along with education of the community on no-kill options for animal care and control.
He designed FCNMHP to work with different area shelters, and it does, but DuCharme finds himself doing a lot of work with the City’s Animal Care and Control Center.
On Saturday he is there, scrubbing water bowls, walking dogs and cats, greeting possible adoptive families, thinking about fund raising and training new volunteers.
The organization hosts adoption events almost every weekend at Petsmart stores in Jacksonville and Orange Park. Volunteers shuttle a couple dozen dogs and cats from the shelter to the pet supply stores, where perspective owners can adopt a pet without having to travel all the way to the shelter on West First Street.
Since it was founded in June, FCNMHP has found homes for about 400 dogs and cats, not counting what the shelter alone does.
John Merritt is the division chief for the City’s Animal Care and Control. He said a third of the shelter’s adoptions come as a result of DuCharme’s work.
“We’re very excited because he’s helping us out a tremendous amount and has greatly increased the volume of adoptions,” said Merritt.
Merritt said the likely reason behind FCNMHP’s success is the enthusiasm DuCharme has for what he is doing.
“They [the volunteers] are able to get further into the community and spread the word about the shelter. These animals are as nice as any for adoption and they’ve had all their vaccinations and have been spayed or neutered. People just don’t know about them.”
Besides the adoption fairs, DuCharme is advocating more spay and neuter programs around the city.
The Low Cost Referral Program, which works with area veterinarians who perform the spay/neuter service at discounted rates, has a waiting list of about 150 people. Next month, FCNMHP will be working with the City to host Spay-a-thon, a two-day event which will target areas of the community facing the worst in animal overpopulation.
“I’ve always loved dogs and cats,” said DuCharme, who owns two dogs, doberman mixes called Duncan and Rock. “I thought about being a veterinarian, but I didn’t like school as much.”
Instead, DuCharme went to business school in Kansas where he took a job with Landoll, which eventually moved him to Jacksonville. DuCharme likes his job, but his passion is the FCNMHP.
“It would be great to be doing this full time,” he said. “I want to see an increase in the dogs and cats that leave the shelters alive.”