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East County Wednesday, Jun. 23, 2021 7 months ago

Manatee County commissioners disagree on need for Lakewood Ranch animal shelter

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Some commissioners say a planned animal shelter might not be necessary in East County thanks to donation of Bishop Animal Shelter.
by: Brendan Lavell Staff Writer

Animal Network President Pam Freni said in an email June 17 the organization no longer plans to raise $2 million to contribute to Manatee County toward the construction of an animal shelter in East County.

The decision came after commissioners debated at a Wednesday budget work session whether an animal shelter was urgently needed — or needed at all.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore said the county needed to follow through on its promise to build a shelter in East County, and Commissioner Reggie Bellamy agreed.

However, other commissioners said the county should wait until Bradenton’s Bishop Animal Shelter, which is in the process of being donated to the county, is running before making a decision on the needs of the county’s Animal Services division.

Given the commissioners’ reluctance to commit to building an East County animal shelter, Freni said she no longer believes it is useful or ethical for Shelter Manatee to solicit donations.

Freni, who is the chair of Shelter Manatee, said she is seeking counsel to close the capital campaign and dissolve the umbrella organization behind it, Animal Network. She said Animal Network’s board is in unanimous agreement.

The county designated nearly $3 million to be spent on a future shelter in the 2022 fiscal year. Commissioner George Kruse said that figure was too high.

“We might open Bishop, renovate it and have more than enough capacity,” Kruse said. “We might have everyone out east going out to Bishop. This isn't like you're going grocery shopping. If you're going to look for a dog, driving a few extra miles to Bishop isn't the end of the world.”

Kruse said the county needs to be mindful of not just the cost of building the shelter, but the cost of operating it. The projected cost of operating Bishop Animal Shelter, for example, is estimated at $3.25 million.

Some commissioners say Manatee County might not need an East County animal shelter because of the donation of Bishop Animal Shelter and its state-of-the-art equipment. File photo.

Kruse also said the county is not taking the money for an East County shelter and removing it from the budget. Rather, some of the money is being redirected to pay for the renovation of Bishop Animal Shelter.

If the county needs to provide a location for people to adopt pets that is more accessible to East County’s rapidly growing population, Kruse said an adoption center would be a better solution, at least until the county learns if Bishop will meet its needs. Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge agreed with Kruse’s suggestion of an adoption center, adding the Parrish area could also be a suitable location.

Whitmore said the need to build a shelter in East County now is largely about smart planning for the future. The increasing human population will come with an increase in the population of stray or abandoned dogs and cats.

Even with a renovation, Whitmore said Bishop likely won’t meet the county’s capacity needs, especially if the county’s shelter in Palmetto is demolished because of concerns about the age of the building, which was built in 1940.

Hopes said the county should divert money from the East County shelter to Bishop to renovate one of the latter’s buildings and ensure Bishop will be able to hold the capacity of animals the county’s current shelter does. He also said, in the long term, he doesn’t believe Bishop will be able to meet the county’s capacity needs.

Bishop Animal Shelter Exceutive Director Keith Pratt stands in the surgery center of the shelter's newest facility. Some commissioners say the county might not need an East County animal shelter because of Bishop. File photo.

Hopes suggested scaling down the East County animal shelter so it doesn’t duplicate some of the speciality services found at Bishop, such as an X-ray machine and veterinary clinic. Whitmore said the local animal community would be understanding if the East County shelter started small and expanded as needed.

Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said the county should get Bishop Animal Shelter running before making a decision on an East County shelter. She also disagreed with other commissioners about the Palmetto facility, saying it could be renovated if necessary.

The original plan for an East County animal shelter involved constructing a $10 million facility, $2 million of which would have been paid for by Animal Network. The $10 million figure was cut to $8 million on county staff’s proposed fiscal year 2022 budget after news of the Bishop Animal Shelter donation.

The planned location was on county-owned property south of State Road 64, across the street from Carlos E. Haile Middle School and School House Drive.

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Brendan Lavell is a general assignment reporter for the Observer. He earned degrees in journalism and history at the University of Missouri. He has visited 48 of the 50 United States, has a black cat named Arya and roots for the Eagles, Flyers, Phillies, 76ers and Chelsea FC.

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