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Hernando Animal Services Department gains full-time vet, coordinator

BROOKSVILLE — Officials have filled two key positions at the troubled Hernando County Animal Services Department.

Lisa Centonze, who most recently worked as a veterinarian for Hillsborough County Animal Services, will become the new managing veterinarian on Jan. 24. Donna Black, who retired in July 2011 as the public information officer for the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, will be the animal advocate, rescue and volunteer coordinator with a start date of Jan. 22.

Each said she was excited about tackling the new challenges and looked forward to moving the department beyond controversies of the past year.

"I'm very passionate about animals … this job presented itself at the right time,'' said Centonze, who received her veterinary training at the University of Florida. "I'm very excited about joining the staff in Hernando and bringing the community together to help the animals.''

A resident of Land O'Lakes, Centonze spent the past five years working at the Hillsborough shelter and said she enjoys shelter medicine. She worked in private practice and a house-call veterinary business before her time with Hillsborough County.

She said she was thrilled to be the first full-time veterinarian for Hernando County. The position is critical for the county to provide better care for the animals, she added.

The biggest plus of an in-house vet, she noted, is being able to spay and neuter each animal before it is adopted out. Currently, veterinarian Raul Figarola provides oversight to the shelter. Before that, only volunteer veterinarians provided regular medical oversight.

Centonze's top priorities upon her arrival will be to set up the surgical suite in the old code enforcement office at the shelter and to meet with area veterinarians and the animal rescue community.

Her salary will be $80,000.

Black worked for the Sheriff's Office from 2003 through her retirement and before that spent seven years with the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office. During her time in Hernando, in addition to her media relations responsibilities, she initiated the Civilian Mounted Unit and Hernando County Crime Stoppers.

"I am so excited. This is a new adventure,'' Black said. She said she has always been around animals and thinks her law enforcement and public relations experience will be useful in the new job.

"I'm an animal advocate. I've always been one,'' she said.

She will help evaluate and market animals for adoption, develop rescue contacts and transfer animals to rescue organizations, and create and maintain an active volunteer program.

She will be paid $42,370.

Friction among animal services staffers, volunteers and some rescue contacts has been at the center of some of the controversy. The public issues there began with the immediate euthanizing of an owner-surrendered young dog named Zeus last April.

Several detailed and critical reviews of the shelter were released in the months that followed, including a study by veterinarians through the University of Florida and an internal audit that recommended adding the two positions to a shelter staff that had shrunk because of budget cuts in recent years.

A new veterinary technician, also recommended, has not yet been selected. The shelter will also use the services of trustees from the Hernando County Detention Center.

Centonze said she is confident that the department will improve. "I'm looking forward to the challenge,'' she said.

Public Safety Director Mike Nickerson said he, too, is confident that the right people are coming onboard to take animal services to the next level and he is happy to comply with the recommendations made in the study and audit.

He agreed that Black's experience with law enforcement and public relations is a good fit for her new job. And he noted that Centonze is "very qualified.''

"She understands some of the past problems and is going to be able to win that war of trust from the citizens and the rescues and all the animal advocates,'' Nickerson said. "This is going to put us on the path to success.''

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

Hernando Animal Services Department gains full-time vet, coordinator 01/02/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 7:05pm]

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