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The No-Kill Zone

As the county strives to maintain a 90% animal save rate, shelters crowd and some animals brace for longer stays at local rescues.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. July 15, 2015
  • East County
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Wally, a 2.5-year-old black Labrador mix, has woken up at the Humane Society of Manatee County every morning for the past year and a half.

He’s been housed at the shelter longer than any of its current batch of animals. He's skittish, timid and afraid of people, except for a few volunteers and employees at the facility.

"I used to sit with him in his kennel and read him stories," animal care specialist Sarah Thompson said. "He was afraid of me, of humans really, until one day he dropped his head onto my lap."

Hildy Russell, the shelter's finance and communications director, wonders whether he will ever find his forever home. 

He rarely plays with people who visit the shelter, which contributes to why he hasn't found a home, Russell said. The shelter took Wally in after the Feb. 5, 2014 raid at Napier's Log Cabin Horse and Animal Sanctuary. 

Before the county’s No-Kill initiative, animals like Wally who require extra training, medical bills or other needs, were euthanized, said Bill Hutchinson, director of Animal Services.

But since the county launched the initiative in 2011, the county is euthanizing a significantly fewer number of animals.

Now, more animals are saved than before the campaign launched in 2011. But if Wally spends the duration of his life at the Humane Society, is he benefiting from the campaign or prolonging a possibly lengthy stay at a shelter?

The East County Observer recently spoke with animal rescue officials to examine how the county’s No-Kill initiative has impacted local shelters and the dogs and cats it sought to save.

Death rates down, population up

In 2010, the year prior to when Manatee County Commissioners approved the county to become No-Kill, 2,844 dogs and cats — more than 53% of the 5,344 dogs and cats impounded — were euthanized.

“Before we started No-Kill, Animal Services was viewed as the dog catchers — the guys in pickup trucks who grabbed animals and brought them back to the shelter,” Hutchinson said. “We made a token effort to reunite a stray with its family, but if the owners didn’t come in five days, we euthanized the animal. I’d say we euthanized more than half of the animals that came through the facility in the years before this initiative.”

By comparison in 2015, just 134 animals have been euthanized at Animal Services.

One result of the initiative: As fewer animals are euthanized, the population at Animal Services and other local rescues is surging.

Currently, Animals Services houses nearly 130 animals. Its capacity is 80.

"There's a strong correlation between a growing shelter population and our decision to be No Kill. We used to control number of animals we had in this place. But,we were focused on space management before, and now we're focused on the animals." — Bill Hutchinson, director of Manatee County Animal Services

Nate's Honor Animal Rescue houses nearly 90 animals regularly and is consistently operating at or over its capacity, said Karen Slomba, associate director of Nate’s Honor Animal Rescue.

Another consequence of No-Kill: Local rescues have also noticed a spike in owner surrenders, which further crowds shelters, because owners are more willing to surrender their pets knowing they aren’t likely to be euthanized. 

Honor receives 30 to 40 surrender inquiries a day, Slomba said.

"We're constantly operating in crisis mode, with more and more animals coming in," Hutchinson said. "This morning, there were two dogs tied to the fence (in front of Animal Services). That's what we're dealing with every day."

But, Denise Deisler, a former executive director of the Humane Society of Manatee County who is now the executive director of Jacksonville Humane Society, believes there are certain successful recipes to “creating a truly No-Kill community the responsible way.”

The Jacksonville Humane Society has maintained its No-Kill status for nearly two years. Although the shelters in Duvall County are full — with more than 400 animals fostered out from the Humane Society alone — animals are still being adopted out quickly and shelters aren't overcrowded, she said.

She believes Manatee County has the resources and space to house even more animals than it has now; keeping shelters full versus overcrowded is a matter of marketing, she said.

"The last thing Manatee County needs is another shelter to make No-Kill work," Deisler said. "There are already too many cooks in the kitchen."

Adoptable behavior

To Deisler, the solution is obvious: Increase output (adoptions) and lower input.

In Jacksonville, Deisler keeps the animals' stay at her facility short by putting animals on adoption lists.

Once an animal has been in the shelter for 30 days, it goes on a watch list. After 60 days, the animal's name goes on the long-timer list, and the animal becomes the rescue's poster child on the website, social media, TV and other outlets.

She believes Manatee County should adopt a stronger marketing campaign to showcase harder-to-adopt animals. Hutchinson admits the county could advertise its animals more and plans to form new partnerships with businesses throughout the area to have signage and dogs on site for interested individuals to adopt.

It may also consider mobile adoption units to get animals out of rescues and into the community. Animal Services recently opened Meow Town — a storefront adoption center for cats in downtown Bradenton. 

So far in July, more than 100 cats have been adopted there.

Long-term solutions 

To help ease shelter congestion, Hutchinson plans to further promote two critical programs that have helped prevent animals from being brought to shelters in the first place:

Animal Services representatives met this week to discuss a "boots on the ground" campaign, which he hopes to launch as soon as possible. He plans to have volunteers or staff members visit low-income areas and educate residents about the Trap, Neuter and Release (TNR) and Free Ride Home programs.

The Trap, Neuter and Release Program saved 2,000 cats from euthanasia just in 2012, Hutchinson cited. Rescue employees comb areas that have a large population of stray cats that haven't been spayed or neutered. They bring them to a local clinic, such as the one at the Humane Society, where the cat is neutered, and release it back to where the animal was found.

The Free Ride Home Program, which the county implemented three years ago, allows rescue workers to scan stray animals for microchips. If the animal has a chip, the address and contact information for its owner should appear on the scanner.

In its first year, the program helped return more than 300 animals to their homes.

Honor Rescue employees stress the importance of neutering animals, to help prevent over population and eventually euthanasia of animals, such as Wally, who have long-term stays in shelters.

Also, to ensure the county is fully satisfying the No-Kill requirement of saving 90% of animals it receives, local rescue groups have agreed to submit monthly reports on how many animals each took in and how many were euthanized.

Hutchinson plans to publish the results on the website each month, starting in August.

Rescue groups banning together and being more transparent with its save-kill rates will play a major role in lowering euthanasia rates and will keep animals from spending more than a few months in a shelter, Deisler said.

"If the rescues all ban together and utilize their strengths, there should be no problem getting animals adopted," Deisler said. 

What about Wally?

As for Wally, he isn’t in danger of being euthanized, but Russell hopes he finds his forever home soon.

"A dog’s behavior in a home is so much different than it is when they're in a cage at a shelter," Russell said. "Animals can become cage stressed and run in circles; they get bored. But, for now, Wally is OK. He has a few friends and family here, and a bed to sleep on. As long as the animal feels better than it did when it came in, we're doing something. We're Wally's family for now."

Contact Amanda Sebastiano at [email protected].


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