Days could be numbered for Manatee County's Palmetto animal facility.
When they enter an animal shelter, those looking to adopt a pet probably don't expect to see crowded kennels, paint bubbling on interior walls, mold, and storage rooms that are packed beyond capacity.
But those problems have been visible at the Manatee County Animal Services Center in Palmetto.
Proponents of a county-owed East County animal shelter say those problems magnify the need for a new facility, a hot topic among Manatee County commissioners this year.
Commissioners approved a budget Sept. 14 that includes $6 million to build the East County animal shelter, but that process still has more hurdles to clear as plans need to be approved by the commission.
Adding to the lack of clarity is the expected donation of the Bishop Animal Shelter in Bradenton. Bishop was built in 1958 and had some kennels added in 2001. In the past year, a new $10 million intake facility that features state-of-the-art medical equipment, seamless floors that allow for easier cleaning and a drainage system that flushes with individual drains have been added.
Some commissioners have questioned whether a new facility needs to be built if the county takes over Bishop, a 27,000-square-foot facility as compared to the 19,000-square-foot facility in Palmetto. Bishop has 53 kennels and an isolation area for dogs as compared to Palmetto, which lacks an isolation area. The Palmetto facility does have 10 cages for cat isolation. Cat adoptions are performed at Cat Town in Bradenton.
The Palmetto facility was built in 1940 to house 80 dogs. Manatee County Animal Services Division Chief Sarah Brown said the facility far exceeds that number and has had an average of 156 on any given day since 2016 with a high of 190 dogs.
“Ideally, we’d have no more than 80 dogs or 30 cats in this facility,” Brown said. “If we were at 80 dogs, we’d be very happy.”
Overcrowding is just one of the issues. With storage space scarce, officials turned one of the closets into a surgical room that allows for veterinary care. Brown said the room had to be gutted due to mold, and the ceilings were removed due to rat infestation, which she said has been curtailed since that time.
Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said asbestos had to be removed last year and that $400,000 was spent on repairs, a figure that included $190,000 to add more electrical capacity. That allowed the installation of exhaust fans to move air throughout the building.
“I’ve been telling the commissioners that we needed those for years,” she said. “So then we had to spend the money because we couldn’t literally put in a whole bunch of fans for the dogs outside because the system couldn’t handle it. It’s kind of an embarrassment to the county.”
The Friends of Manatee County Animal Services, a group that goes above and beyond services and treatments that the county cannot provide, spent $50,000 on artificial turf patches for dogs just outside the shelter. Organization President Kassandra Zess-Pagel said the facility’s condition is dangerous for both pets and humans alike.
“We would love to have a new shelter because a lot of the conditions here are very old,” Zess-Pagel said.
The Bishop facility is more state of the art.
“Our facility was built more as a quick holding facility and not for adoptions,” Brown said. “Bishop would help with a lot of things. First, we wouldn’t have surgeries in a closet. The sanitation there is also extraordinary. It’s basically brand new, and who doesn’t want something new and shiny?”
Whitmore said the county is still in the process of gathering information on Bishop. According to the agreement, the county would be taking on some of Bishop’s employees, and the Bishop Parker Foundation would be keeping half the land for its own use.
Whitmore said whether or not Bishop comes on board for the county, an East County shelter still is needed. Whitmore led the charge to get $6 million included in the five-year capital improvement plan that commissioners passed as part of the fiscal year 2022 budget. She said design work could start later this year, and a shelter would be located on county-owned property south of State Road 64, across the street from Carlos E. Haile Middle School and School House Drive.
Whitmore said the Palmetto facility would closed once Bishop is up and running. She said the facility could be sold to a bird rescue or wildlife rescue group for $1.
“My thought is give it to an organization as is,” she said. “Wildlife Inc. on Anna Maria Island is the only place for wildlife. They literally have a 1,200-square-foot place. We have a bird rescue. We are rescuing all these pelicans that these local vets are doing surgery on, and there’s no places for them to recover except for that wildlife bank. It’s just terrible.”
Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said whether the Palmetto facility will be closed, and if so, what to do with it, hasn’t been decided. She also said giving away the Palmetto facility would not be fiscally responsible, and perhaps the land could be repurposed for low-income housing.
Commissioner George Kruse said he thought the buildings did not appear to be viable for any purpose. He said the land could be repurposed into something else, such as affordable housing or commercial use.
“It’s just an outdated building in the now-wrong location due to growth patterns in Manatee County,” Kruse said. “You’re probably better off surplusing the land and figuring something else for that property.”
Kruse said he hopes the county can get the Bishop facility, which was donated in January, running as quickly as possible. He called the delay in finalizing the donation “disheartening.”
“It means that there’s no urgency toward this,” Kruse said. “And people aren’t prioritizing it the way that they should. We know how bad Palmetto is, and right now, that’s where animals are, and that’s where the animals are going to stay until Bishop’s done.”
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