Report about Manatee County Animal Services Division delayed, official says

MANATEE -- An audit report addressing troubles at the Manatee County Animal Services Division has been delayed, an official said Monday.

The report by the consulting firm Matrix Consulting Group Ltd. of Mountain View, Calif., was to be completed this month, but now is not expected to be done until November, said Nick Azzara, county information outreach manager.

In July, county officials signed a $53,000 contract with Matrix to audit the animal services operation. The company was assigned to do interviews, tour county facilities, send out anonymous questionnaires to employees, profile the organization, and diagnose and evaluate its operations. It is to submit a report with recommendations at the conclusion of the probe, according to its contract with the county, the Herald has reported. The audit, which officially began July 24, originally was to have taken about 12 weeks to complete, it said.

It was considered necessary after several commissioners said they were confused and frustrated by all the investigations of the animal services division.

County animal services employees came under fire in connection with an animal abuse case involving a private shelter where they had sent animals for care. Owners of the East Manatee animal rescue, called Napier's Log Cabin Horse and Animal Sanctuary, face multiple counts of animal cruelty and fraud. Napier's was raided Feb. 5 by a multi-agency law enforcement effort led by the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, which found animals living in deplorable conditions, according to investigators.

Last summer, the sheriff's office concluded there was insufficient evidence to file criminal charges against county employees in connection with the case but its report did reveal long-standing, serious problems at the Napier sanctuary such as poor sanitation and lack of food and water for animals.

Sue Kolze, vice president of the rescue group called Animal Network Inc., said Monday she had no information on the status of the report.

Animal Services Chief Bill Hutchison did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.