Manatee County has long been a state and national leader in the care and concern for animals. With the adoption of a No Kill policy in October 2011, the county commission set a benchmark as the first county in Florida to stop euthanizing healthy dogs and cats.
Today, the county hopes to expand its ground-breaking approach to saving animals' lives. The question is simple: Should the county enter into a private-public partnership with a nonprofit rescue organization that would handle pet adoptions?
Under the concept, the county would continue to enforce animal ordinances through the Animal Services Division. Plenty of questions remain, mostly about the cost and liabilities to private organizations should one enter into an agreement. Uncertainties abound, as a new study to promote the idea indicated.
Manatee County animal rescue and welfare organizations stand out as national leaders in aggressive outreach and programs for saving, fostering and adopting out pets. It comes as no surprise that a new county report -- titled the "Manatee Animal Partnership Study" -- came to that conclusion.
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Forty-six community leaders and all seven county commissioners participated in one-on-one interviews designed to determine interest in a public-private partnership and establishing Manatee County with a reputation as "world class in saving animals' lives."
That said, the county's Animal Services Division has been facing sharp criticism over its handling of animal transfers to Napier's Log Cabin Horse and Animal Sanctuary. Some 300 animals were taken from the East Manatee facility just months ago in a law enforcement raid that led to cruelty charges against the owners of the farm.
The county's placement of animals in that questionable facilty remains under review, and the agency must be held accountable.
While the department may have been pursuing the No Kill philosophy overly zealous in the Napier case -- and that has not been determined -- the No Kill goal is worthwhile. One of the keys will be more communication on the success of the No Kill policy.
The new Manatee County study, conducted by Dr. Len O'Hara, a former science professor and college president with two decades of experience in qualitative research methodologies, found enthusiasm for furthering the county as a model community for animal care.
None too surprising, O'Hara cited the passion about that point -- writing that study respondents said "doing something unique, even game-changing, within the realm of saving animal lives would elevate this community is so many important ways.
"Joyfully, it would give parents and teachers abundant opportunities for teachable moments in kindness to animals and one another, and personal and social responsibility as well as science, business and ethical behavior among other things."
Those would be invaluable lessons for the next generations.
(We would emphasize one aspect of that statement, the reference to "one another." People should be in that "kindness" category, especially children.)
Manatee County adopted a No Kill policy to institutionalize humanitarian standards on animal preservation. Oddly enough, though, the study found people still do not completely understand No Kill. Misconceptions persist.
No Kill does not mean never kill. Diseased, vicious and behavior-impaired animals are still put down, as they must, but the save rate soared here since 2011 -- from 61 percent right before No Kill to more than 90 percent for months now. And that's the goal of the No Kill movement, 90 percent or better.
That remarkable achievement has earned Manatee County accolades across the country -- and rightfully so.
The next step -- to be more of an "exceptional" model for others to follow, a majority of study respondents stated -- could be the county outsourcing pet adoption.
Will that work? Will the community contribute money to the effort? How much will the county put in the pot? Is there an animal rescue organization willing to take on this enormous responsibility?
Those questions are up in the air, but Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker hopes to have some answers by the end of this year.
He'd like government to "get out of the adoption business. I think other people can do that better."
Rescue organizations have expressed concern about the absence of details about a partnership, and that trepidation is understandable. Considering this is an idea that garnered unanimous support, though, there's a good reason to continue the conversation. Let's explore this proposal.