Six months into Hillsborough County's effort to reduce the rate of killing at its animal shelter, critics are pounding director Ian Hallett for running a supposedly broken operation. But lost in the noise is the fact that the more humane approach has resulted in thousands more dogs and cats having their lives improved. Hallett needs to get a handle on the problems at the shelter and demonstrate he has the leadership skills to fix them. But he also needs time and a fair opportunity to make a difference.
Some Hillsborough County commissioners expressed skepticism about the shelter's leadership Wednesday, echoing the refrains some animal welfare activists have made that the shelter is crowded and unsanitary, and that staff had placed unsuitable dogs up for adoption. Some of those complaints are valid and are being addressed. Three shelter employees are on paid leave pending an investigation into the mistaken euthanasia of a dog that was to be adopted. But many criticisms appear to be overblown. This week, the county moved to bring in a management consultant to examine whether the problems are isolated or systemic and the result of weak leadership.
There is no doubt that Hallett needs to fix these problems. But it's important to distinguish between valid critique and policy disagreements. The county's new strategy is to reduce animal euthanasia and place more animals into permanent homes. The move has caused some congestion at the shelter, which was designed more for warehousing than showcasing pets. And it has rankled some volunteers and activists, who see the no-kill goal as impractical. But Hallett warned commissioners that the transition would be difficult. And the commissioners acted responsibly by giving the agency more resources after it had been cut too deeply during the recession.
Already, Hallett has produced results. The number of animals euthanized has dropped 9 percent in 2013. The agency placed 38 percent more animals into homes — even as the number coming into the shelter reached a three-year high. That's 1,200 fewer animals being killed and 2,400 more being adopted. Hallett needs to address the ongoing concerns, but he also deserves the time to do it.