TAMPA — Hillsborough County hired a new animal services director Friday with experience running a low-kill shelter.
Ian Hallett, 35, a native of Riverview, has spent the past year as deputy chief animal services officer for Austin, Texas. The agency provides animal control services for the city and surrounding Travis County.
Hallett started at Austin Animal Services seven years ago as a volunteer. He joined the staff in 2007.
In a letter to Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill, Hallett said the Austin animal shelter had a save rate of less than 40 percent when he started there. That means fewer than 40 percent of the roughly 20,000 animals that landed there were adopted or returned to their owners.
Today, the agency boasts a save rate of 90 percent.
Hallett said his current employer engaged outside groups to assist in getting dogs and cats adopted. The agency also aggressively courted volunteers, including people with marketing skills, and makes active use of social media, he added.
Greater steps also were taken to ensure strays are identified by animal control officers in the field and returned directly to their owners, bypassing placement in the shelter. Officers routinely use Facebook or utility bill records,to locate owners.
The Austin shelter is open every day, into the evening, except on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Hallett said he foresees being able to work with Hillsborough County's existing staff to make changes that result in a reduced need to euthanize animals.
"Part of this process will be sitting down with stakeholders," Hallett said, speaking of animal advocates, breeders, non-profits and veterinarians with interest in shelter operations, "and formulating a plan that is satisfactory to those folks."
Hillsborough County has reduced the number of animals euthanized at its animal shelter by 52 percent since 2005. Still, about 65 percent of the animals housed there will be put down — nearly 14,000 dogs and cats annually.
A number of animal advocates have stepped forward in recent months to demand improvement, seeking a target kill rate closer to what Austin reports. Hillsborough County Commission chairman Ken Hagan won support from fellow board members this week to pursue such a target.
Hallett replaces Bill Armstrong, who retired as Animal Services director last year. His hiring comes a little more than a week after Merrill confirmed the sudden retirement of director of operations Dennis McCullough, who functioned as Armstrong's chief deputy.
He starts June 18 at a salary of $101,410.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Bill Varian can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3387.