BROOKSVILLE — Acting upon a suggestion from the University of South Florida as well as recommendations in a recent internal audit, Hernando County Animal Services has hired a local veterinarian to temporarily manage the department.
Dr. Raul Figarola, who owns and operates ASAP Animal Clinic in Brooksville, has accepted a three-month contract to manage the county's shelter facility on Oliver Street. Figarola, 54, said that he accepted the job because he believes he can initiate positive changes that will improve the shelter's image and will result in more animals being adopted.
"(Animal Services) has gone through a rough patch," Figarola said. "All we hear about is the bad things, the horror stories. But I think the community needs to know that there are good people here that do wonderful things every day that people don't hear about."
Among the ideas Figarola said he would like to explore are ways of enticing more people to volunteer at the shelter, gaining more exposure for the dogs and cats in need of adoption and educating pet owners on how to better care for their animals. In addition, he said he wants to look at establishing a pet food bank for owners who may be financially struggling.
"Obviously, we'll be looking at setting up a set of standard operating procedures and work at improving the facility where we can," Figarola said. "I think there's always room for improvement."
Animal Services has been under scrutiny since April, when a young dog named Zeus — surrendered at the shelter just minutes earlier — was put down by one of the agency's workers.
The action prompted a public outcry.
Another euthanasia mistake last month earned public safety director Mike Nickerson a written warning from County Administrator Len Sossamon, who ordered him to immediately implement recommendations to make improvements at the shelter.
On Tuesday, county commissioners approved the hiring of Figarola and two more staffers to bolster a reorganization plan at animal services.
A well-known local animal advocate who sits on the board of the Coalition for Animal Welfare, Figarola said he also wants to see area pet rescue groups work toward consolidating their efforts to find more homes for adoptable pets.
"There are very good rescues in our area, but some of them have built walls around themselves," he said. "I want to work toward building bridges."
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.