The lobby of an animal shelter is usually a happy place. The walls are painted in light, bright colors, often decorated with portraits of dogs and cats. However, the cheerful ambience belies an unfortunate reality of the place - a lot of death happens there.
In the first 10 months of 2012, 10,696 animals entered Pinellas County Animal Services, according to statistics released Wednesday, and 5,666 died there - 4,300 cats, 1,366 dogs.
On Wednesday morning, the leaders of the county's three largest animal shelters stood behind a lectern at Animal Services headquarters - in a lobby with sky blue walls covered in pet paintings - to announce a program they hope will reduce the number of animals they kill every year.
For the first time in their histories, SPCA Tampa Bay, the Humane Society of Pinellas and Pinellas County Animal Services are sharing animal intake and outcome statistics. The numbers, updated monthly and posted on the agencies' websites, will provide a comprehensive account of Pinellas' homeless pet population, helping shelters see what's working and what isn't.
"This matrix is a huge step forward for animals in our community," said Martha Boden, chief executive officer of SPCA Tampa Bay. "More animals survive and the community is a better place if all these agencies work together."
Wednesday's announcement capped a monthslong effort by the three organizations to get on the same page, statistically, and they hope all Pinellas shelters join them. They've already added Pet Pal Animal Shelter of St. Petersburg this week. The numbers released Wednesday account for about 80 or 90 percent of the county's animals in shelters, according to Boden.
The key statistic officials want to improve is the "live release rate" - the percentage of animals shelters take in that leave for a good reason, like adoption or return to owner. The four shelters have a combined live release rate of 57 percent this year - 21,610 animals came in; 12,291 animals departed alive - according to the shelters.
The shelters say they have euthanized 8,814 animals (6,054 cats and 2,178 dogs among them). These figures do not include animals brought in by their owners to be euthanized, and the shelters haven't yet determined how to properly count animals transferred among them.
Euthanasia policies at Pinellas shelters have sparked controversy. Both the Humane Society and SPCA Tampa Bay have been criticized by people who felt they projected the impression they were "no kill" shelters.
Both shelters euthanize animals. The SPCA has a live release rate of 58 percent. The Humane Society - more selective about the animals it takes in than the SPCA - has a live release rate closer to 90 percent. Pinellas County Animal Services' rate is 48 percent.
The catalyst for the collaboration? The three major shelters have all gotten new leaders recently. Boden and Sarah Brown, the Humane Society's executive director, started in 2011, and Phil Morgan took over at Pinellas Animal Services last month.
"Without collaboration, more animals die," Bowden said.
Reach Will Hobson at (727) 445-4167 or email@example.com.
* * *
By the numbers
2012 Pinellas County animal statistics (through October)*
7,462 dogs taken in
2,178 dogs euthanized
11,926 cats taken in
6,054 cats euthanized
*Does not include owner-requested euthanasias
Sources: Pinellas County Animal Services, the Humane Society of Pinellas, SPCA Tampa Bay, Pet Pal Animal Shelter.