Manatee County animal shelter firings demanded

skennedy@bradenton.comJuly 10, 2014 

BRADENTON -- A raucous crowd of roughly 100 Wednesday complained loudly to surprised members of a citizen advisory board about cruelty to animals and disrespectful behavior toward humans at Manatee County's Animal Services Division shelters.

The meeting of the Manatee County Animal Services Advisory Board, a volunteer group that oversees the county animal services operation, turned accusatory as attendees complained they saw dogs mistreated or were mistreated themselves while trying to adopt pets at a county shelter.

Some demanded key county employees and managers be fired.

Kayla Lippert described a recent visit with her 2-year-old trying to adopt a dog named "Happy Feet."

"My son and me were in the kennel when a man picked up

a chair and hit the dog with it," she said.

"The dog could have had a happy home," if such an ugly incident had not occurred, she said.

Candy Luther said she went to the Palmetto shelter twice, and was treated badly by staff both times.

"It was not a good experience," she told the board.

Sharyn Taylor said she was skeptical of getting a pet from county animal shelters, even though she had taken in many rescue animals.

County animal services employees sitting with the advisory board at the Central Library meeting room also had their defenders.

Julia Johnson reminded the crowd county shelters euthanized 25 animals a day years ago, a situation the shelter's No Kill policy has drastically improved. She referred to the county decision in 2011 to stop killing healthy animals in its care under a formal resolution and plan approved by the county commission.

"Manatee County has come a very far way," Johnson said, adding she was "tired of this Facebook stuff," meaning griping on social media sites.

The county animal services staff she sees everyday does care and is "very compassionate," Johnson said.

John Marble said he volunteers with two others who walk as many as 60 shelter dogs each day.

"There's three of us walking dogs -- it'd be nice to have 50," he said. "We rejoice when they get adopted, but it takes a community."

Other speakers did offer help, such as Romana Nikolic Bundrum, who works for a tech company and offered her expertise in researching the costs of No Kill shelter operations.

County Animal Services Chief Kris Weiskopf introduced a draft document setting set new rules for rescue partners where Manatee County sends animals for care.

The document, which still must be OK'd by county attorneys and commissioners, listed a number of requirements for local rescue organizations -- such as maintaining clean, safe facilities and conducting themselves in a professional manner.

The proposed document drew comments from some in the crowd.

Wendy Smith said animal services staff members and their rescue partners should be held to high standards.

"It really needs to be mutual," she said.

The imbroglio over the animal services division worsened in February when a local private shelter, with which the county had partnered, was raided in connection with an animal cruelty case.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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