Crowded with dogs and cats, Hillsborough's pet center offers a week of free adoptions

Athena has her eyes trained on what’s happening outside her cage at the Hillsborough Pet Resource Center. She’s available for adoption, and at no cost starting Tuesday. [ANGELIQUE HERRING   |   Times]
Athena has her eyes trained on what’s happening outside her cage at the Hillsborough Pet Resource Center. She’s available for adoption, and at no cost starting Tuesday. [ANGELIQUE HERRING | Times]
Published July 1, 2019

TAMPA — Every morning at 8 a.m., Lori Letzring nervously watches her email inbox, waiting to read the daily population report for Hillsborough County's Pet Resource Center. In the summer, it's a particularly stressful part of the day for Letzring, the center's pet resources and community services manager. Usually the shelter is over capacity, inundated with too many homeless cats and dogs. There were 223 cats and 275 dogs at the center on Friday, Letzring said. The capacity is 157 cats and 245 dogs. "All day long it's a balancing act," she said. "You can see it on our faces. You can tell when our population has spiked … there's a dread, there's a worry." Currently only nine dog kennels are empty, Letzring told the Tampa Bay Times.

That's why it will be free to adopt a shelter cat or dog one year or older from Tuesday to July 7. But don't show up July 4; the center is closed. More information is at the center's website.

Adoptions are sorely needed right now, Letzring said, so the center is waiving fees for spaying, neutering, vaccinating or microchipping animals. First responders and active duty or retired military service members can adopt kittens or pups for free, too. You don't have to be a Hillsborough County resident to qualify for the deal.

"My goal would be to get as many as those long-stay dogs and cats out of here," Letzring said. "Those that have been here awhile but desperately need a home."

Too many pets is often a challenge in June, July, August or September. "A lot of people move, in the summertime. They're going from a place where they could keep their pet to a new apartment or place where they can't," Letzring said. It's also "the height of kitten season." Yet, despite the predictable trend, it's always worrying to see the center so crowded, Letzring said. It's easier for cats or dogs to get sick when the building is packed. Kennel cough, a cold-like upper respiratory infection, can be a big problem the longer dogs and cats stay at a shelter, Letzring said. There's also less time to take pets outdoors, play with them or help struggling animals recover one-on-one from trauma, abuse or neglect. Staff and volunteers get run down. Ginette Campos, an animal care supervisor, said she sometimes works 12 hours a day during the summer. "Hopefully, if we stay 15, 20, 30 minutes longer, somebody's going to adopt an animal," said Campos, who owns three cats and two dogs. Overcapacity can also be heartbreaking. Last summer, Letzring said the center had to euthanize about 12 dogs for lack of space. Euthanasia is always a last resort, she said. Before considering euthanasia, staff will try to find a different shelter with room for an animal, Letzring said. There's no sign they'll have to euthanize animal anytime soon. She's optimistic the July 2 to July 7 deal will help lower the Pet Resource Center's population. It has worked before. "We've had great success. It draws people in."

It's all a numbers game. The Pet Resource Center has an open admissions policy, meaning it takes in injured or sick animals other shelters might reject — strays picked up by animal control with an illness, cats or dogs of any size handed over by families who can no longer care for them. In 2018, just under 18,000 pets were brought to the center. As of Friday, nearly six months into 2019, 8,613 pets had been admitted, Letzring said. If all goes well next week, reading the center's population report will be a bit less nerve wracking in July, Letzring said. "Our community comes out, when they know we have this problem."

Pet registration changes in Hillsborough County

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July 1 marks the official launch of a new pet registration process in Hillsborough County. The county's animal control ordinance was amended in May to allow for the sale of three-year pet registration tags.

Tags can be purchased at the Pet Resource Center or veterinary clinics. One-year tags cost $20. Three-year tags will be $50. Previously, one-year tags were issued and had to be renewed annually.

The Pet Resource Center uses the tags to track whether cats, dogs or ferrets are vaccinated for rabies, as required under state law. Contact Sam Ogozalek at or (813) 226-3430. Follow @SamOgozalek.