MANATEE -- Beth Lewis doesn't like to sit still.
When the shelter manager job at Manatee County Animal Services opened, the former Hillsborough County Animal Services shelter supervisor decided to apply because she said she was at a standstill.
"If it ever gets to the point that I'm sitting still and nothing is being accomplished, then I have a problem," Lewis said Wednesday on her first day at the Manatee County shelter.
Lewis, who began her career about 12 years ago working in shelters in Austin, Texas, said she can't imagine doing anything else.
"It's the physical care of the dogs," Lewis said. "We have to make sure the animals are cleaned every day and fed."
Bill Hutchison, interim animal services director, said Lewis brings years of experience from "one of the most enlightened and progressive shelters in the country in Austin, Texas. Her passion is animal-behavior evaluations, an area that has always been sorely lacking in our system. She has been in the forefront of the movement to save animals and now gets the opportunity to bring us in for a landing by installing and cementing those core values into all MCAS employees. Our volunteers and employees will enjoy working with her. She walks the walk."
In Hillsborough County, Lewis began a Project Dog program to work on animal behavior. Lewis said she envisions bringing the program to Manatee County.
"I enjoy working with the fearful dogs," she said. "We kind of evaluate a dog and see what the dog needs to get in a position where a rescue will take it, or get it in a position where it will actually get adopted."
In the first three weeks of the Hillsborough County program, 22 dogs got out of the shelter that wouldn't have been released previously, Lewis said, adding she believes 100 percent in Manatee's no-kill efforts.
"It's the little things like that," Lewis said. "I'm still very proud of that and they are continuing that program and once I get my feet wet, I want to introduce that here because we are not here to just clean up and hoard these animals. We are here to try to improve them."
The Manatee County shelter, 305 25th St. W., Palmetto, is over capacity with more than 100 dogs. Through March 31, the shelter is running a special adoption rate of $15 for animals in the shelter more than 30 days.
Since the 10-person staff Lewis will oversee at the shelter is younger -- the longest-tenured has been with the county for eight months -- she said she doesn't want it to just be a job for them.
"I've got some young people that I can really influence if they choose to accept it, and that will be great," she said. "There's a lot of ways of improving and there are a lot of people supporting that."
Staff training and animal behavior evaluations are among needed areas of improvement, Lewis said.
When Lewis told people she was headed to the Manatee County shelter, a lot of people referred to it as the "hidden shelter," she said.
"I want by the time I leave, retire or get fired, that this shelter is not known as a hidden shelter," she said. "I would love to see some foot traffic in here and get people in here on the weekend."
The layout is conducive to becoming an open shelter, Lewis said.
"Where people can walk these dogs," she said. "We aren't there yet but that's a goal, a vision."
Lewis said they need the support of the public.
"We are going to try to get some more offsite events and let people know that we are transparent," Lewis said. "We are here to let them see what we are doing. We are doing great things and we are going to do even better things."
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024 or at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.