Manatee County Animal Services finished a ground-breaking year -- its first as a no-kill operation -- with a very successful pet adoption event that placed 101 dogs and cats into new homes over three days. With both the downtown Bradenton adoption center and Palmetto shelter at capacity, Animal Services offered pets for free.
People responded in droves, breaking the county's one-day adoption record with 43 dogs and cats heading to new homes on Dec. 28. The old mark, set just two months ago, stood at 27.
When county commissioners unanimously adopted a no-kill policy in October 2011, Manatee set a goal of saving as many dogs and cats as possible -- a 90 percent live release rate and higher. A number of animals brought to the county shelters cannot be saved because of poor health, aggressiveness and other issues.
At the time commissioners proudly established Manatee County as the first in Florida with a no-kill policy, the live release rate was only 61 percent.
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For this past December, though, the figure reached 84 percent. For all of 2012, 79 percent of the animals were saved -- a remarkable increase for the 60 percent the previous year.
The save rate includes adoptions, pets returned to owners and animals taken in by rescue groups rather than euthanized.
Animal Services, under the leadership of Kris Weiskopf, deserves the lion's share of the credit for coming so far in only 15 months.
Weiskopf writes a weekly column for the Herald that continues to spotlight pet adoption, spay-neuter and other animal issues. Communication is one of the keys to a successful no-kill program.
But this is a community effort, too, with the pet advocates in rescue groups and other animal welfare organizations working as partners with the county. Plus, there are the veterinarians who donate their services, the residents who foster dogs and cats, the photographers who contribute pet images to spur adoptions, and the volunteers who clean cages and play with the pets at the county facilities. Weiskopf hopes to add to the current list of 100 volunteers and 25-30 foster homes.
Manatee County government is justifiably proud of this initiative, even dedicating its 2013 calendar to pets and no-kill with dog and cat images and information about Animal Services throughout.
For the month of October, there's this notation: "Volunteers are a dedicated 'army of compassion' and the backbone of a successful No Kill effort. ... volunteers make the difference between success and failure and, for the animals, life and death."
Indeed, we commend everyone involved is this humane project. That includes Manatee County Commissioners Carol Whitmore, who played a leading role in the adoption of the policy and continues that advocacy.
The policy has accomplished other goals as well, such as a stronger low-cost or free spay and neuter program and better handling of feral cats.
Other Florida counties are following Manatee's inspirational lead with Broward and Pasco on board and four more moving in that direction.
As animal advocates will say, rescue pets have a great appreciation for a loving and stable home, and they return that kindness many times over.
And Weiskopf champions, "Opt to adopt. Don't breed or buy while shelter pets die."
Preview images of those animals by visiting www.mymanatee.org/pets or visit the adoption center or shelter.
As Weiskopf told us, there's a misperception that Manatee is no kill now when in reality the county is working toward that goal -- and is well on its way.