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Summer months worsen Manatee animal shelter overcrowding. Here’s how you can help

These animals need a home, not just shelter

There’s a “critical need” for both volunteers and adoptions at Manatee County’s severely overcrowded animal shelter.
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There’s a “critical need” for both volunteers and adoptions at Manatee County’s severely overcrowded animal shelter.

Officials said the Manatee County Animal Services shelters were at “critical capacity” last year when more than 290 animals were in their care, but the situation today is even worse.

Now there’s a “critical need” for volunteers, adoptions and donations at Manatee County’s severely overcrowded animal shelters. In an email to a group of animal lovers, county Commissioner Carol Whitmore said staff are looking for help managing 180 cats and 165 dogs. About 265 of those animals are in the Palmetto shelter, designed 35 years ago to hold only 80 animals.

“As of last night, we have 180 cats and 165 dogs at the shelter,” Whitmore wrote Tuesday. “Kitten season is here, and we are feeling it.”

The conversation spun back up again Thursday afternoon at the monthly Manatee Tiger Bay Club meeting, which highlighted animal welfare issues in the area. Sarah Brown, the county’s division chief of Animal Services, stressed the importance of volunteering and spreading the word about the shelter’s dire situation.

“Summer months are always the most challenging,” she said. “We try to do the best we can, and then go beyond that to protect this vulnerable population.”

The good news, Brown explained, is that Manatee’s animal services group is actively trying to change its perception as strictly the local dog catcher, and has placed a greater emphasis on saving animals and finding them new homes. However, a growing resident population means a growing number of pets, too.

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There’s a “critical need” for both volunteers and adoptions at Manatee County’s severely overcrowded animal shelter. A dog named Archie Bunker looks through the fence from his bed. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

“As animals get adopted, there’s always another one waiting for it in its place, so the goal is to get as many animals out of the shelter as possible, for as long as possible, especially during this wave of intake,” said Brown.

Animal Services takes in between 10 to 15 animals a day, and adopted a no-kill policy that aims to save at least 90 percent of the animals that come through the door in 2011.

Adopt-A-Palooza, Manatee County’s largest annual adoption event, hopes to tackle the overcrowding problem head-on when it returns to the Bradenton Area Convention Center on Aug. 3.

“Every year it’s bigger and better,” said local attorney Lisa Chittaro, an animal advocate and former animal cruelty prosecutor, of the annual event. “Every year we see more and more people coming in, and while we’re there, we see pets united with their new families and the joy on their face makes us all feel like this community does come together to give these animals a home that they can be healthy, safe and happy in.”

A large part of the Palmetto shelter’s problem is aging infrastructure that is costly to maintain, according to a county staff analysis. The shelter was built in 1985, and has long surpassed its expected lifespan.

Animal shelter staff and volunteers pointed to issues with the air conditioning, mold and space limitations at the current facility in an April meeting with the Board of County Commissioners. As a result, county officials promised to spend $8 million for a new animal shelter.

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There’s a “critical need” for both volunteers and adoptions at Manatee County’s severely overcrowded animal shelter. Sara Wood and Kassandra Pagel look through the shelter for dogs to photograph. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

One Tiger Bay member questioned whether Manatee taxpayers should be footing the bill for an $8 million facility, and asked Brown to explain why the amount is justified.

“If you haven’t been to our facility, you should,” Brown responded. “Because that would give you 8 million reasons why. We’re constantly having plumbing issues, we’ve completely outgrown the facility and right now we’re at three times our capacity.”

“The facility was built as a holding facility for the dog catcher,” she continued. “It was not built as an adoption facility, so to be able to really meet the demands of what we’re trying to do here in the county, and to be able to just have good plumbing and humane conditions for the animals and our staff — I could go on for hours.”

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There’s a “critical need” for both volunteers and adoptions at Manatee County’s severely overcrowded animal shelter. A dog named Archie Bunker looks through the fence from his bed. Hans Wohlgefahrt of Animal Services greets a friendly dog. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

The county shelter isn’t the only one feeling the effects and constraints that come with more people and more animals. Keith Pratt, executive director of Bishop Animal Shelter, informed the crowd about his organization’s plan to increase their building footprint from 22,000 to 150,000 square feet.

Each speaker urged the audience to prioritize adopting an animal before looking to buy a dog from a retail store or breeder. Pratt touted Bishop’s Slumber Party Program that gives potential adopters a chance to bring their furry friend home for a test run.

At the Humane Society of Manatee County, veterinary staff make every attempt to help each of the 13,500 animals that come through their door every year, according to Executive Director Rick Yocum. They also try to provide assistance to current animal owners struggling to keep their animals healthy.

“We try to provide services for each and every individual who walks through our door. You will not be turned away,” Yocum said.

Another Tiger Bay member asked why Animal Services hasn’t been responsive in picking up dead animals along Manatee roadways, but according to Brown, that duty does not fall under her division’s responsibilities in the county ordinance. Officers do, however, retrieve bodies when the situation allows.

“We’ll continue conversation with the county to try to come up with a better solution,” Brown said.

Those interested in adopting an animal from the county may visit the Palmetto Shelter at 305 25th St. W. or Manatee County Cat Town at 216 Sixth Ave. E., Bradenton. For more information on the upcoming Adopt-A-Palooza event, visit www.fomcas.org.

Ryan Callihan is the Bradenton Herald’s County Reporter, covering local government and politics. On the weekends, he also covers breaking news. Ryan is a graduate of USF St. Petersburg.
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