There are some hopeful milestones being established for animal welfare in Pinellas County, according to a joint analysis by five major agencies released Wednesday.
The number of pets being surrendered to shelters by their owners dropped to 4,928 in 2017, a six-year low and 34 percent drop over that time. Stray intake fell 24 percent since 2012, hitting 10,705 last year, while adoptions spiked 16 percent over the past six years.
The number of animals euthanized at shelters has nearly been cut in half since 2012, with 5,438 mostly dangerous or ill animals killed in 2017.
The optimistic statistics in the 2018 Pinellas County Animal Welfare Report is the latest benchmark in an effort between Pinellas County Animal Services, The Humane Society of Pinellas, SPCA Tampa Bay, Pet Pal Animal Shelter and Friends of Strays to create a uniform picture of county trends. Since joining efforts in 2012 to combine figures and resources, the agencies say data is the way of the future to find solutions to problems plaguing animals and pet owners.
"The more unified our vision, the more accessible our resources become," said SPCA Tampa Bay CEO Martha Boden.
Efforts to improve shelter practices have stretched over the bay in recent years, with Hillsborough County Animal Services adopting a so called "no-kill" standard in 2012 decreasing the euthanasia rate from about 60 percent at the time to roughly 13 percent last year.
Like Pinellas County did in 2015, Hillsborough in 2013 also implemented a trap-neuter-release program to sterilize feral cats to control stray populations.
Some of the improvements in Pinellas can be credited to a concerted effort to increase microchipping and licensing to help reunite pets and owners, said Animal Services Director Doug Brightwell.
While the overall number of animals entering shelters has decreased, only 1,731 lost pets were reunited with their owners in 2017, a 12 percent decline over six years. Brightwell said a return-to-owner task force was formed in 2014 to strategize how to "remove obstacles that delay or prevent returns."
It resulted in a policy beginning July 2016, where the groups began requiring residents to drop off strays exclusively to Animal Services, reducing the number of places owners to go when searching for lost pets.
The agencies have also increased adoption events and promotions. And Brightwell said improved medical services at the shelter have enabled Animal Services to treat more complicated injuries that previously would have resulted in euthanasia.
But the statistics also shined light on problem areas in the county. Intake of wildlife like birds, squirrels, opossums and other species has spiked 79 percent since 2012 to 2,205 animals in 2017.
Brightwell said there is a direct correlation between a boom of development and animals displaced from their natural habitats.
"Our county was already built out with few pockets of vegetation left and those pockets are becoming less and less," he said.
The five partner agencies are also developing a program to address shy or fearful dogs that end up in shelters and get overlooked or misunderstood because of their behaviors. There has been a 20 percent decrease in the number of dogs coming into the shelters since 2012 but only a two percent increase in dog adoptions.
"Often dog behavior is a reason why owners surrender pets," said Stacey Efaw, executive director of Humane Society of Pinellas. "The shelter environment can be very stressful for animals and lot of time they don’t present themselves in the best way if they are being fearful or shy."
Mo Eppley, board chair of Friends of Strays, said continuing education about the work Animal Services does will also be key to increasing adoptions. She said some still have a stigma about "the county pound" being a place of no return for animals
Boden said the partnership is making an impact but will need community support to continue progress.
"We can tell working together we’re having a definite positive impact," she said. "Clearly there’s some stuff to celebrate but there’s also more work to do."
Contact Tracey McManus at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.