The Manatee County nonprofit hopes to help the county fund a new animal shelter.
As Pam Freni looked around Manatee County’s Animal Services building in Palmetto, she smiled and watched a volunteer walk a dog and stop to stroke its back and ears.
In a few years, she hopes the outcomes for animals like that one could be optimized with a new animal shelter.
Manatee County has committed $8 million to the concept. Funding will come from infrastructure sales tax revenues starting in fiscal year 2021.
Animal Network Inc. — a local nonprofit dedicated to offering spay/neuter clinics, microchipping, educational programming and support to other animal rescue organizations — has committed to raising another $2 million toward the shelter.
This month, Animal Network launched its fundraising campaign with a $100,000 challenge grant from the Manatee Community Foundation’s Bill and Maryann Vinall Fund. The foundation will match the first $100,000 in donations received.
“They’ve been so generous,” said Freni, who is the Animal Network president. “It’s so exciting to be part of this [partnership].”
Manatee County at-large Commissioner Carol Whitmore said the challenge grant shows the public and board of commissioners that “our citizens are serious about raising the funding they’ve committed to.”
Animal Network has about two years to raise the full $2 million, though Freni said she’s hopeful it can raise more.
“I truly believe we’ll hit our goal,” Freni said.
She said any money raised above $2 million could be put toward the “nice to have” items, such as a quality X-ray machine, more play surfaces for the animals and dedicated walking paths.
County officials have considered a site off State Road 64 for a future location, but nothing has been finalized.
Manatee County Administrator Cheri Coryea said the current Animal Services building is at capacity and in need of replacing. The shelter was built in 1940 and last renovated in 1986.
“As our community has now reached a population of over 400,000 people and growing, it is time for us to meet current demand and plan far in the future for caring for unwanted pets,” she said in a news release. “Embarking on this public-private partnership is a unique opportunity with the help of Manatee Community Foundation and the Animal Network, and it allows for the community to help us plan and bring the new facility to fruition.”
Freni said supporting a new animal services building has been in Animal Network’s plans for at least 20 years, and she’s excited to be seeing that come to fruition.
She pointed to the research of Heather Lewis, principal of Animal Arts, a Colorado-based architectural firm that specializes in animal care facilities, to show that having a new shelter should improve outcomes for the animals in Animal Services’ care.
Lewis said newer facilities are designed in ways that help animals feel more comfortable, so they are less afraid and better able to show off their unique personalities. They also are designed better, which promotes less illness. She said the animal sheltering setting is much like a hospital: An old hospital is harder on patients.
“Outcomes improve when you build something newer and better,” Lewis said.
Her company has worked with sheltering organizations across the country, and many have seen dramatic changes after opening new shelters. For example, adoptions increased 70% for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Ernie County, N.Y., and live release rates increased 83% for the Oakland County Animal Services in Oakland, Mich.
Manatee County’s Animal Services Division is tasked with taking in stray animals, investigating animal abuse cases and responding to nuisance or other calls. It is mandated to take in all strays, without discretion. Other rescue organizations can pull animals from it, but they can select which animals they desire, such as particular breeds or sizes.
Its current facility is located at 305 25th St. W., Palmetto.