Hillsborough County is taking the right approach in moving to significantly reduce the number of animals killed at the county animal shelter. Over time, the steps the county is taking should help more animals lead healthier lives and be adopted into loving homes. The county should give this new strategy the money and time to produce results.
A renewed commitment is vital in the wake of last month's resignation of Dr. Isabelle Roese, a full-time veterinarian at the shelter who quit after 13 years, citing deteriorating conditions and a poor relationship with the shelter's new management. She and some others with animal welfare groups have complained about crowded conditions at the shelter, an increasing number of sick animals and questionable decisions about the suitability of some dogs being placed for adoption.
But the problems are more manageable than many suggest, and they stem in part from the fact that the shelter is both receiving more unwanted animals and moving away from routinely euthanizing those that arrive sick. The shelter also has extended hold times for animals in an effort to get more adopted. The volume has caused congestion, but the department's new placement strategy, which county commissioners adopted in May, promises to get animals out sooner. That cuts the window for disease to spread through the shelter.
The change in direction under Ian Hallett, who took over the department 13 months ago, is still opposed by some in animal welfare who see the project as overly ambitious. But the strategy is a smart, humane approach for dealing with the volume of 20,000 animals entering the shelter each year, the majority of which are euthanized. Hallett is building on the department's success over the past decade in significantly cutting the number of dogs and cats being killed — the 13,000 euthanized in the past year is half the number of 2007. And the department has consistently increased the number of animals being adopted. This strategy can work, but the shelter needs time to retool its operation and change the work culture.
County Administrator Mike Merrill sent the right message earlier this month by issuing a written statement of support for Hallett and acknowledging that animal welfare is an emotional issue. But he's right that the focus should be on the best approach for dealing humanely with lost, abused or abandoned pets. The new strategy will give healthy animals another chance, reduce the population of strays and expand public awareness about responsible pet ownership. But it takes time to change direction. Hallett deserves an opportunity to put his plan to work, and he should have the commission's support in carrying out a policy the commission embraced.