New animal services report expected to decrease Manatee County's no-kill gains

MANATEE -- Several members of the public once again blasted Manatee County Animal Services during Tuesday's Manatee County Commission meeting, criticizing the way the department reports euthanization numbers.

Director Bill Hutchinson acknowledged not every case where an animal is put down is officially recorded, but promised the debate on which animals are recorded in the no-kill numbers would soon be put to rest.

Manatee County Animal Services has struggled to reach its goal of saving at least 92 percent of the dogs and cats at the county shelter as part of its no-kill resolution adopted in 2011.

"When starting the no-kill, there was a lot of debate on how to calculate the numbers, and the county used a Humane Society model, which has since changed since it was introduced to us," said Hutchinson.

"No kill for us is a journey. Sometimes we reach that, sometimes we don't, but we will get to the 92 percent goal."

Hutchinson said his personal goal is 99 percent.

"We want to be a model for the country, but we are understaffed and underbudgeted to reach those goals," he said. "In the meantime, we need to come together as a community."

Hutchinson said he listens to those raising concerns and ordered a new report on agency euthanizations to include numbers not previously recorded as a means "to extend an olive branch to the rescue groups."

Hutchinson also called for the animal issue to be "depoliticized."

While some activists continue to be critical of animal services, others rallied behind Hutchinson, noting

he has only been leading the agency since August.

Deborah Star, with Animal Network, said she understands the justifiable public anger but said it is directed at the wrong person.

"It took a big kick for this movement to get started, but Bill came in and in five minutes fixed things that we had been trying to get fixed for eight months prior," said Star. "Let's get together and work together in a positive way."

Hutchinson said the new report likely will show the percentage of animals saved at about 85 percent.

"The shelter can only accommodate 60 animals," he said. "We get panicky when we get 80 and right now we have more than 100. Every day, fewer go out the front door than what comes in the back door."

Julia Johnson, also with Animal Network and a former volunteer at MCAS, said anger pointed at MCAS staff is unjustified, with some critics referring to staff as murderers. She, too, said a more positive focus is needed to find a solution.

"Staff members are doing their jobs and I can tell you, they don't like their jobs," she said. "But if the county hadn't taken the steps to become no-kill, they wouldn't be getting half the grief they are getting because there are other counties without no-kill policies that people don't even talk about.

"The problem is that the no-kill policy was instituted but not funded. I know it was a rough time in 2011, but things are getting better and it's time to put some money behind this."

Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said commissioners have heard the public outcry.

"We've acknowledged there is a problem," she said. "But Bill is showing immense leadership. I know people want it done right now, and we are on a path of making a lot of wrongs right. I don't want you to think we don't hear you because we do."

The new report is due by the end of October.