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Sue Carlton: Getting creative for low-kill, no-kill animal shelters that save lives

You're heading into a downtown government office building for some dull but necessary business, to dispute a tax bill or sit through a boring meeting. You plod along with the workaday crowd, head for the elevators and —

Look!

A puppy!

Dogs! Cats! Up for adoption, and there for the petting!

It's one small but creative idea for saving more of the 20,000 dogs and cats that end up in Hillsborough County's animal shelter every year — too many of them euthanized.

They are not fun numbers. Hillsborough has a kill rate of 65 percent, greatly improved from the past but still not great. For Pinellas Animal Services, 47 percent of the dogs and cats left the shelter alive in the last year.

Ian Hallett is the new guy running Hillsborough Animal Services (and the one who may soon make a trip to a government building infinitely more enjoyable). Born and raised here, he started as a volunteer at a shelter in Austin, Texas, where 60 percent of the dogs and cats were euthanized. By this year when he was deputy chief animal services officer, 90 percent were leaving that shelter alive.

The no-kill movement, it's called, was adopted in Manatee County last year with a 90 percent goal. (That's 90, not 100, because some animals are too sick or aggressive to send back out into the world.)

In May, the Hillsborough County Commission voted it was time to do better — not with a no-kill policy, but a deliberate path to saving as many animals as we can. With that, a newly formed Animal Services Task Force is beginning to meet. (But don't expect everyone who cares about animals to agree on the best ways to protect them. One sure sticking point: trapping, neutering and releasing feral cats, either very practical or completely wrong, depending on where you sit. Stay tuned.)

So how do you change those numbers?

Well, ideas like bringing dogs downtown where the actual people are can't hurt.

Turns out Hallett has two, Sophie and Oliver, the kind of shelter pooches we agree make the best dogs. "Intrinsically, I think they're more grateful," he says. My own shelter dog greets me at the end of every day as overjoyed as if I had gone to off to war. That never gets old.

On the job four months, Hallett and County Administrator Mike Merrill are talking ideas like bringing adoptable animals to libraries and the County Center lobby downtown. This means potential pet owners won't necessarily have to find their way to the far-flung east county shelter out near the jail, possibly with the help of a GPS.

Merrill can attest to what a good dog, live and in person, can do to that person, even when the person is at work in a suit. A stray basenji mix brought to a commission meeting for an event one day by Animal Services is now named Suni and a member of Merrill's household.

More ideas? Maybe, they're thinking, willing county employees could help with adoptions and foster parenting. Merrill talks of possible incentives for pet supply stores like Petco or PetSmart to build on county land near the shelter, attracting people who already like animals.

Intense marketing and awareness. Volunteers. Being opening seven days beginning in November because, as Hallett puts it, "It's a matter of life and death if people don't come." And without ideas, there's only those numbers, the ones that aren't good.

Sue Carlton: Getting creative for low-kill, no-kill animal shelters that save lives 10/09/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 9, 2012 8:32pm]

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