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Hillsborough County Animal Services looks to reshape its image

TAMPA — Scott Trebatoski is on a mission to show the community that Hillsborough County Animal Services' positives outweigh its negatives.

It's not an easy task. Years of mismanagement and an onslaught of criticism that caused County Administrator Mike Merrill to reassign the previous director of animal services has made it an uphill battle. But in just over six months, Trebatoski has instilled new policies and started a series of events that he hopes will turn the beleaguered county shelter around.

Oh, and don't call it a shelter. The facility on Falkenburg Road is now the Pet Resource Center

"The goal is to get people to see us differently," he said. "We're trying to move away from people always seeing animal control as the place that animals are brought and don't make it out of there. We're trying to say look, it's a multidimensional organization."

For now, it seems to be working. When he took on his role as the county's animal services director this spring, the amount of animals that left the shelter alive sat at 46 percent. Now, it's at 70 percent.

"Ultimately we want to get up into the 80s or 90s, so getting to 70 is a big milestone," Trebatoski said. "It seems like as time goes on, these numbers are inching their way up, so hopefully that will mean continued growth."

But it's not just about the numbers, Trebatoski said. His goal is to change the perception of animal services within the county.

The changes include sprucing up the Falkenburg facility with brighter colors and also renaming it the Pet Resource Center.

"We're trying to get people to see it as less of a sterile environment and more inviting," he said.

They've also started more active outreach into the community, including a new monthly event called First Saturday Celebration. The goal is to increase adoption rates while also providing educational tips and a fun, family-friendly environment.

The third official event in the series takes place Saturday. The goal is to be as visible as possible, Trebatoski said. Folks driving down the road will be able to spot food trucks and the Tampa Bay Lightning's Rolling Thunder Truck. There will be giveaways, tours of the resource center and an outdoor area to play with dogs off the leash. Previous months have also included a bounce house.

" 'Fun' and 'shelter' might not have been words used in the same sentence in the past," he said. "We want them to also be educational and have some fun things to do, so that if people are just looking for something to do, they can come enjoy a First Saturday event whether they're adopting or not."

But if they are looking to adopt, Trebatoski wants the Pet Resource Center to be their first stop. More than 100 dogs and cats will be available for adoptions as low as $20 on Saturday. The event is also celebrating October as national Adopt-a-Dog Month.

In the past few months, Animal Services has averaged at least 100 adoptions at their First Saturday events, which is about double an average weekend, Trebatoski said.

Still, animal services houses about 450 to 525 dogs and cats on premises at any time, spokeswoman Marti Ryan said.

Walking through the pet resource center, past rows of and rows of dogs and cats looking for new homes, Ryan talked about the challenges each of them faced: some were recovering from surgery, others were older dogs or victims of abuse. Still, she said, the changes she's seen over the past few months bolster her hope that most of them will find new, loving families.

"It used to be so overwhelming, but you can't think of it that way," Ryan said. "You have to think of it as a house of hope, not a house of death."

Contact Caitlin Johnston at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2443. Follow @cljohnst.

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