- September 29, 2021
With the current Manatee County Animal Services shelter in Palmetto in major need of repairs, some commissioners have argued a new $6-10 million shelter needs to be built in East County, where the population has exploded.
Whether that new East County shelter is built, though, might depend on the success of a sparkling new Bradenton facility only 20 minutes away from the existing shelter.
The Bishop Animal Shelter, run by the Bishop-Parker Foundation since 1958, is set to be donated to Manatee County. The agreement between the foundation and Manatee County currently is being reviewed by attorneys and is likely to be approved by the end of November.
The donation includes a new, $10 million shelter, that may or may not be enough to handle Manatee County's concerns.
Bishop Animal Shelter Director Keith Pratt, who has been with Bishop since 1992, said the original animal shelter was built in 1958 because the Bishop family didn’t like how Manatee County Animal Services was being run at that time.
“They didn't ever want to see another stray animal on the road,” Pratt said of the Bishops. “All their animals were basically strays they found. My dad always said (of the county) 'Why are they building out in the boondocks?' Because there was nothing around here. (The Bishop Animal Shelter) just grew from there. It's all privately funded by them. We don't get any county, city or state tax incentives. And it's been going on since then.”
The original building from 1958 still stands. Pratt said It was expanded in 1999 and that Bishop has replaced water lines from that building. It currently needs major work on its sewer system, which could cost millions.
“(It's actually rusting through and to redo all those underground pipes with 40 runs (kennels) would be kind of pricey to invest,” Pratt said.
Manatee County Animal Services Director Sarah Brown said the original structure would likely have to be demolished and a new one eventually built in its place.
“It's a nice, beautiful brick building that has a lot of great character, but those kennels are in pretty, bad shape,” Brown said. “So that would need to happen before we could move in there.”
A new, 25,000 square foot facility was constructed just across the parking lot and was originally built to be an isolation area. It includes two large areas for dogs that provide outdoor access and automatic drainage. Pratt had each room painted in either University of Florida and Florida State University colors to try to attract naming rights. Dogs also have access to fenced in yards that are both grass and artificial turf.
Brown said the drains at Bishop prevent cross-contamination, which in turn is important for the health of the animals in the facility. It also cuts down on cleaning time.
"For us, that's such an important factor,” Brown said. “It’s easy to clean. Everything can be hosed off there, except for the ceiling, because they have the film barriers and whatnot. So sanitation is going to be a lot easier.”
The new facility also includes a state of the art surgery room. It features tables that lift up and down from the ceiling and a large X-ray room. Brown said there is not an X-ray capability in the Palmetto facility and injured animals that are brought in have to be reloaded into vehicles for trips to the vet.
“An X-ray on site will be so amazing for us,” Brown said. “Now, when we get an animal that's injured from the field, they bring it in, and then our veterinarian will give it an exam. And then it has to go back into a vehicle to go to another veterinarian off site to get those diagnostics done, because we just don't have that equipment. It's going to be, literally, a lifesaver in so many different ways. The medical facility is just above the fold ... top notch.”
Bishop’s shelter also contains three separate cat rooms, a rabbit room, another room for smaller animals, walls that are wipeable throughout the facility, separate laundry rooms for different types of animals and five storage rooms — a feature that is sorely lacking in Palmetto.
“It's beautiful,” Brown said. “We’re very honored that they brought this to us and we’re pretty over the moon about it. We hope it all gets moving forward.”
Pratt said the foundation decided to donate the two buildings and one of the two residences on the property 18 months ago. The county will receive 18 of the 30 acres on the property, while Bishop will retain the rest of the property for use as walking trails.
The condition of the Manatee County Animal Services shelter in Palmetto had nothing to do with the Bishop’s decision to donate, according to Pratt.
“It was just timing,” Pratt said of the foundation’s decision to donate the property. ”The last couple of years they've had a very high live release rate. They like that.”
Bishop recently moved all of its animals into the new facility, in a large part due to a reduction in staff. Pratt said his staff of 18 was reduced to 11 — himself included — once they were told Manatee County would be taking over the facility.
Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said the county will be taking on Bishop’s staff. When fully operational Bishop can handle nearly 400 animals.
Whitmore said the Bishop Foundation built the new building to accommodate growth in west Bradenton. Even with Bishop coming online, Whitmore and Pratt both said the need for a shelter in East County is still there. Commissioners approved $6 million for a new shelter in East County as part of their five-year Capital Improvement Plan last month.
“One-hundred percent sure we will,” Whitmore said of building an East County facility.
However, Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh called the donation “an answer to prayers" that might slow down the need for an East County facility.
“It’s necessary and it’s also very helpful to the county," Baugh said, "because it’s $8 million we don’t have to spend to build a new one.”
Baugh said she wanted to take a wait-and-see approach on how the Bishop shelter would affect Animal Services. If built, Whitmore said an East County 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.
“I think it's ridiculous to think about building another shelter at this point, particularly in a different location,” Baugh said. “When we have the Palmetto shelter that we could do several things with, we could either refurbish it, redo it, or we could tear down and rebuild.”
Whitmore sees the Bishop Animal Shelter as more as a necessary first step.
“It'll be phenomenal,” Whitmore said of the Bishop Animal Shelter. “We’ll be able to operate in a professional room versus a closet, so that's a big step up. And also, their capacity is about the same as what we have in Palmetto now so that'll help.”