MANATEE -- The new interim director of the embattled Manatee County Animal Services Division promised changes Wednesday to address the chorus of complaints about county shelter operations.
Director Bill Hutchison said organizational changes, more transparent data, facility improvements, tightened licensing enforcement and better staffing will all be addressed, but cautioned it would be "baby steps" at first.
"We're looking at everything. We're examining every process and procedure and the way we do things, so nothing will be missing scrutiny," he told a group of about 50 at the Central Library in Bradenton.
Already, he's made a number of small changes, but most of the big ones must wait until a formal audit of the division by an outside firm is completed in October, Hutchison said at a meeting of the Manatee County Animal Services Advisory Board.
Then he tended to what he called "fence mending." He urged people to feel free to look him up at his office, adding: "Anybody who cares to stop by and have a cup of coffee and talk about things, I'm there and the door is open."
One immediate change involved how animals euthanized by the division are counted.
Some animal rights groups have complained the county under-reported the number because animals put down at veterinarian offices and other locations away from its shelters were not counted.
The numbers are important, they said, because they measured how well the county was progressing toward No Kill status.
In 2011, the county commission adopted a No Kill policy, which specified the county would stop killing healthy animals in its care under a formal resolution and plan.
Hutchison acknowledged the county never counted euthanasia cases done outside Animal Services facilities.
"It did make a difference," he said.
Reporting all cases would have dropped the "save rate" for animals in the county system from 93 percent to 88 percent, he found.
He cited an example: A dog hit by a car and taken by a county road officer to a vet for emergency treatment is eventually euthanized because of the severe injury.
"All those numbers should be included in our euthanasia report," he said.
However, he reminded
the group: "When we started (No Kill), we were at a 50 percent rate; now it's 93 or 88 percent save rate."
He is also planning to reopen the county's downtown Bradenton adoption center with volunteer help, restart a lapsed foster care program and draw up a new agreement governing partners who care for animals transferred from county shelters.
"Napier was a wake-up call for us," he told the group.
He was referring to a county partner, Napier's Log Cabin Horse & Animal Sanctuary, which was raided last winter in connection with an animal cruelty case.
Members of the audience expressed hope animal care would get better.
"I felt the community had lost confidence in Animal Services," said Melanie McKeever, a volunteer at county shelters and for rescue groups. "But the changes seem good."
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.