This holiday season is a good time to recognize a government agency making a real difference in Hillsborough County. Thanks to its work on several fronts, the county's Department of Animal Services has sharply reduced the number of dogs and cats it must put down, and sharply increased the number of pets it places into new homes.
Staff and volunteers, through their humane efforts, are making the county healthier and safer.
County animal departments are dumping grounds across the nation for irresponsible owners. Bill Armstrong, who runs the Hillsborough agency, realizes he cannot adopt his way out of the sheer volume of dogs and cats coming in the door. He and his staff embarked on an aggressive effort to place more of the 30,000 dogs and cats they get every year. And luckily for these animals, the taxpayers and the general public, those efforts have worked.
The department put more emphasis on veterinary care. That made its available pool of dogs and cats healthier and more attractive to adopt. It improved its ties with animal rescue and adoption groups. It became more vocal in its public advocacy for spay and neuter programs and responsible pet ownership. The department, through enforcing animal welfare laws, also raised awareness of animal abuse and exploitation cases.
The result is that after years of steady increases in the number of dogs and cats euthanized by the county, Hillsborough turned the corner in 2006. The county still puts down 24,000 animals a year, a number equivalent to the human population of Temple Terrace. But that figure, for 2008, is 9 percent less than in 2007, which itself was less than in 2006. Meanwhile the number of adoptions continues to rise. The 5,400 adoptions this year represent a one-third jump from last year, and more than a two-thirds jump from 2006.
The department has managed to save more animals, put more in loving homes and reduce the health and safety threats of loose dogs and cats on the street. It has done so at a time the recession is forcing most governments to cut services. The humane treatment and efficient operation is a true community asset, and the public should be proud.