Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hillsborough animal shelter getting more advisers

County Animal Services director Ian Hallett has been criticized by animal welfare advocates as he introduces changes.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

County Animal Services director Ian Hallett has been criticized by animal welfare advocates as he introduces changes.

TAMPA — Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill is once again turning to outside help to address problems at the county's animal shelter.

While shelter management has made strides, including tamping down animal illness outbreaks, Merrill says challenges persist — as evidenced by the recent euthanization of a dog that already had been picked for adoption. That was not an isolated case, and the administrator says customer service at the shelter remains wanting as the county seeks to dramatically lower the number of animals killed each year.

Merrill will ask the County Commission next month for permission to contract with a former Temple Terrace city manager to help Animal Services director Ian Hallett, now in his second year there. He also will convert three vacant jobs to more skilled positions and dispatch two department heads to advise Hallett.

In a memo to commissioners, Merrill characterized Hallett as a "deeply caring person of integrity" who came to the county with "impeccable" credentials. "Nevertheless, missteps and miscalculations have occurred," Merrill wrote. "None of us anticipated the difficulty of instituting change in the organization."

Merrill partly blamed the negative attention on activists loyal to prior management, which was all but forced out as commissioners embraced the no-kill or low-kill movement. He also suggested that the shelter is not set up physically for the emphasis on adoptions.

His memo immediately met blowback from some animal welfare advocates, who have been riding Merrill and Hallett for months. They have decried incidences of preventable disease coursing through the shelter, fed by crowding and perceived shabby treatment of rank-and-file employees and volunteers.

"How many senior managers does it take to ruin an animal shelter?" asked longtime advocate Art Fyvolent, in a response email to Merrill's memo.

Fyvolent is among those calling for Hallett's head. Hallett came to the county from a shelter in Austin, Texas, to take on his first director's job. Fyvolent says the County Commission made a mistake in pursuing a no-kill philosophy, not recognizing the challenges it would present, and says Hallett was not prepared to handle the transition.

"They jumped on this bandwagon way too fast without thoroughly investigating what would happen if they did it," Fyvolent said in an interview.

In his memo, Merrill praised efforts to reduce the number of animals killed at the shelter each year because they fail to find new homes.

The shelter has increased the number of dogs and cats adopted this year compared with last by about 2,500.

But it has gotten an extraordinary amount of attention for such a small county operation because of problems managing diseases and because of defections from veterinarians.

In the past year alone, Merrill has assigned two of his top four deputies to spend much of their time examining how animals and the employees who take care of them are managed.

The county has sought help from the University of South Florida, a management consultant and volunteers from MacDill Air Force Base to help Hallett. Animal Control officers who investigate abuse and neglect complaints were moved to code enforcement.

Commissioners expedited the spending of $250,000 this year to beef up the shelter staff.

Attempts to reach Merrill were unsuccessful Tuesday.

Hallett said he believes the shelter is close to implementing strategies to increase adoptions. At the commission's direction, he said, the shelter is trying to greatly reduce the number of animals killed.

"That is a radical change from the way things have been done in the past," he said. "I do think this is a temporary situation. I'm grateful for the help."

Under Merrill's proposal, former Temple Terrace City Manager Kim Leinbach would step in as a temporary contract employee and serve in a senior management role.

Code Enforcement director Dexter Barge and library chief Joe Stines would offer advice on setting ways to track progress and improving customer service.

The moves come on the heels of publicity about the shelter euthanizing a 1-year-old German shepherd earlier this month after a family had applied to adopt it.

Merrill's memo indicated the pup was the fourth such case in the past year.

Hillsborough animal shelter getting more advisers 10/29/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 29, 2013 11:48pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. All of Puerto Rico without power in Maria's brutal wake

    News

    SAN JUAN — Hurricane Maria's ferocious winds continued strafing Puerto Rico late Wednesday morning, shearing off roofs, cutting power to nearly the entire island and pushing rivers over their banks.

    Rescue vehicles from the Emergency Management Agency stand trapped under an awning during the impact of Hurricane Maria, after the storm  hit the eastern region of the island, in Humacao, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Maria has lost its major hurricane status, after raking Puerto Rico. But forecasters say some strengthening is in the forecast and Maria could again become a major hurricane by Thursday. [Carlos Giusti | Associated Press]
  2. Obamacare repeal bill offers flexibility and uncertainty

    Politics

    The latest Republican proposal to undo the Affordable Care Act would grant states much greater flexibility and all but guarantee much greater uncertainty for tens of millions of people.

  3. Manafort offered to give Russian billionaire 'private briefings' on 2016 campaign, report says

    Nation

    Less than two weeks before Donald Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination, his campaign chairman offered to provide briefings on the race to a Russian billionaire closely aligned with the Kremlin, the Washington Post reports.

    Paul Manafort, then Donald Trump's campaign chairman, talks to reporters on the floor of the Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. [Associated Press]
  4. Tampa girl, 4, dies of gunshot reaching for candy

    News

    TAMPA — One day last week, 4-year-old Yanelly Zoller reached into her grandmother's purse looking for candy, her father says.

    Nelly Zoller snuggles with her grandfather's dog, Venus. Her father says she went looking for candy in her grandmother's purse and found a gun instead. [Facebook]
  5. Mikhail Sergachev begins real Lightning audition vs. Carolina Hurricanes

    Lightning Strikes

    RALEIGH, N.C. — The spotlight will remain on Mikhail Sergachev throughout the Lightning preseason.

    Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (98) on the ice during hockey training camp in preparation for the 2017-2018 season in Brandon Friday morning (09/15/17). DIRK SHADD   |   Times