Meet the Manatee County Animal Services staff

Special to the HeraldJune 4, 2013 

EDITOR'S NOTE: Debra Starr wrote the column this week from her experience behind the scenes. Starr is an active volunteer at Manatee County Animal Services. She has been doing animal rescue work for more than 18 years and spends several days a week at the shelter working with the animals. She also works behind the scenes on adoption events and programs to raise community awareness.

Have you ever tried to make a sandcastle at the beach and even as you shovel out the sand, more sand pours in from the sides to take its place?

That is what it can feel like to be involved in the rescue of our country's discarded dogs and cats. You save one, and two more take their place. Yet those of us involved in rescue persist, because the ones we can save are worth it.

In Manatee County, the staff at Animal Services is persisting. The few shelter staffers work hard to care for an average of 200 animals on any given day. They care for animals picked up or brought in as strays and animals turned in by owners who no longer can keep them. It is the job of the shelter staff to reunite lost pets, re-home forgotten pets and make the hard decisions to ease the sufferings of some.

Kris Weiskopf is the chief. He has seen big changes during his tenure. Up until two years ago, adoptions were not a priority.

Manatee County Animal Services' mandate is for enforcement; Kris and his staff choose to make adoption a priority, giving shelter pets a second chance to live and love.

The problem of "throwaway" pets is not new and not the fault of Manatee County Animal Services. It is the responsibility of everyone. While we are working to become a no-kill shelter, it is not a set destination. Every month we face new challenges, and space constrictions often dictate our actions.

Despite his many years on the job, Kris gets very emotional about the problem. "It hurts me to have to go through the cages and pick who will live and who will die," he admits.

The rest of the staff are equally affected by their duties. Nicki, the shelter supervisor, is a hands-on manager. She will often have a resident pup in her office to provide some much-needed socialization or TLC. One such adoptable dog, a bull terrier mix named Roger Dodger, has opened up thanks to

her special care and is now super sweet and playful, waiting for his forever home.

Nicki supervises adoptions and has increased the transfer program, which releases adoptable pets to rescues and other animal shelters. Despite the wonderful support from these groups, every animal cannot be saved. Although Manatee County Animal Services is at their highest save rate ever, dogs and cats that are too sick, are injured and suffering, or in cases of dangerous dogs, are euthanized. Nicki hopes that those who criticize the staff will further educate themselves to the real problems that the job entails and become part of the solution by helping out any way they can.

George, an animal care specialist, says the days can be hot, loud, hard and busy, but it all seems worth it when a pet is reunited with its owner.

Arthur, another care specialist agrees. His favorite adoptable dog is Cool Dude, a laid-back pit bull who is in the Adopt-A-Bull program and doing very well in his quest to receive his Canine Good Citizen certification. Pit bulls are being trained, promoted and showcased for the wonderful dogs they really are. Adopters of dogs in the program are invited for free ongoing training.

Megahan, also a care specialist, is frustrated at our inability to stem the tide of strays that are picked up. She led me to an isolation room, where I counted seven mommy cats and 30 kittens that have come in or had been born just since the holiday weekend. Megahan loves dogs, too, and her favorite is Pickles, who is in foster care being treated for a skin condition caused by abuse.

If you stop by the Palmetto shelter, you may meet Tana at the front desk. Her main responsibilities are administrative, but she spends considerable time with owners and potential new owners. The cheerful part of her job is reuniting owners with lost pets. The part she likes the least is dealing with owner surrenders.

Often, owners get upset when she has to explain Animal Services is not able to guarantee a new home for their pet and suggests they should consider taking personal responsibility for re-homing their pet. Surrendered dogs available for adoption today included Tanner, a lovely tan-colored lab mix; Buster, a 7-year-old pilot hound; and Jasmine, a 3-month-old pit bull puppy.

Sarah is the vet tech. She is spunky and moves quickly in her quest to care for three cages of kittens in her office being treated for upper respiratory problems. She constantly updates her many lists to ensure all the animals are vaccinated and treated for medical problems.

The rest of the staff -- Megan, Irene, Kathie, Teresa and Cheryl -- all work hard to care for thousands of pets that end up in kennels or cages in Manatee County each year. If you are interested in adopting or fostering any of the dogs mentioned in this article, please contact Tana at 941-742-5933 ext. 8314.

Next week, a look inside the job of an animal services officer.

Kris Weiskopf, chief of Manatee County Animal Services, writes this weekly column for the Bradenton Herald.

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