There's changes on the horizon for Hillsborough County Animal Services as a new director comes on board and the county at the shelter at 440 N. Falkenburg Rd., Tampa.
At the Hillsborough County Commission meeting May 2, County Administrator Mike Merrill said the county will release the name of the new director of the shelter. For the past several years, Animal Services has been overseen by interim directors, most recently Jack Carlisle.
Merrill told commissioners that the chosen candidate was selected after a comprehensive review of candidates including members of the veterinary community and members of the Hillsborough County Animal Advisory Committee.
"There were a lot of stakeholders involved in this decision," he told commissioners.
The shelter has been without a permanent administrator since Bill Armstrong retired June 30, 2011.
The new director will have his work cut out for him.
At Wednesday's county commission meeting, the board voted unanimously to study no-kill ordinances in other municipalities and come up with a financially feasible plan to minimize the number of animals euthanized at the shelter.
While the county has reduced the number of euthanized animals by 52 percent since 2005, Commissioner Ken Hagan said the county could be doing more. An estimated 14,500 animals of the 21,000 animals the county shelter takes in each year are euthanized.
He said he believes the county should work toward reducing the number of animals euthanized at Animal Services and proposed studying ways to bring this about.
"I believe in the bottom of my heart that we will accomplish this goal," he said, although he doesn't believe there is any way the county can save all of the animals that wind up at Animal Services.
"There will always be a need for some animals to be euthanized because of illness and other reasons," he said. "But I don't care if you call it 'no-kill' or 'Save 90 (percent),' I've yet to hear one person say the county shouldn't have the goal of reducing the euthanasia rate."
The challenge, he said, is developing the best practices for achieving that goal.
"I understand there are challenges," he said. "But 34 communities have gone to a no-kill policy including Manatee and Broward. In March, Manatee had an 82 percent save rate. I believe we can lower our euthanasia rate and save healthy animals."
Proposals being studied by the Animal Advisory Committee have included establishing feral cat communities throughout the county, a proposal Brandon resident Vivian Bacca said would jeopardize the county's wildlife.
In addressing the issue at the county commission meeting, Bacca was also concerned about the cost of sheltering more animals.
Commissioner Al Higginbotham also was concerned about the cost of housing a growing animal population.
"I'm concerned that we have the space and staff, and whether we can do this within our means. However, I feel the objective should be to reduce euthanasia," he said, seconding Hagan's motion to study the matter.
Commissioner Kevin Beckner said he believes there's a way to save animals without burdening taxpayers or harming the environment. He noted that other municipalities have accomplished this without increasing costs by implementing a more comprehensive spay and neuter program, working with animal rescue groups and educating the public on responsible pet ownership.
"We need to evaluate the best practices and separate out ones that would have a financial impact and those that would not," he said. "To save more animals, it’s going to take an entire community, a more robust adoption program and spay and neuter program. Having a 65 percent euthanasia rate is dismal and we can certainly do better than that."
Hagan agreed. "It will take a buy-in of the entire community if we're going to be successful."
In addition to studying the no-kill alternative, Hagan made a motion to have the Animal Advisory Committee meetings televised to ensure full transparency.