MANATEE -- The message at Wednesday's Animal Rescue Coalition meeting was clear: Manatee County Animal Services is moving in the right direction but the Palmetto shelter is still over capacity.
About 30 people representing different animal-related organizations in the community were at Manatee County Central Library to discuss what they are doing to help the animals and share ideas on how to continue improving.
County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who helped start the quarterly meetings
in 2009, said she reinstated them after a year-and-a-half hiatus to allow the climate in the county to cool down following a county care scandal involving hundreds of mistreated animals.
"It really wasn't the time for us to meet," Whitmore said. "We see a little bit of a light at the end of the tunnel. I think it is time that we all get together again. ... There are a lot of good things happening. We've got to celebrate that."
Animal Services is moving in the right direction with a no-kill rate of more than 90 percent, but dogs are doubled up in every cage at the Palmetto shelter, 305 25th St. W., said Joel Richmond, animal services enforcement supervisor.
"Our save numbers are way up but so is our population," he said. "Our challenge right now is adoption events. ... We are just kind of plugging along and making process in the right direction."
To reduce the shelter population, Animal Services is planning a two-day adoption event Aug. 1-2 at the Bradenton Area Convention Center where rescuers and vendors will be allowed to set up tables. The convention center is not charging the shelter to put on the event.
"This is a great, great community," said Debra Starr, director of marketing and public relations for Animal Network. "That really says a lot about the community. That's what it is going to take. We are all the choir and we are all preaching to each other. I think this is going to be the beginning of something really, really special."
Other ideas include transporting animals to other states and outreach programs to educate the community.
Several people also said the Palmetto shelter location is poorly placed. Whitmore agreed the shelter needs a more centrally located site and a search is underway.
"We do realize where it is now is not customer friendly," she said.
Beth Lewis, Animal Services shelter manager, said transporting animals up north to less-crowded conditions is a possibility.
"We need to think of the future and the long run," she said. "The immediate problem is the reputation of the shelter and the population of the shelter."
Lewis said there are more than 130 dogs at the shelter, including 55 not classified as bully breeds.
"We need the community to come behind us," Lewis said. "We all know that we are full. If we don't stop bashing each other, how are we going to move forward?"
Caryn Hodge with Picture Them Adopted said she attended the Bradenton Farmers Market the last few month to educate people on no-kill and how people can help in addition to adopting and fostering animals.
"People do not know what is going on in Manatee County," Hodge said.
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.