New Manatee County animal services program calls for "streamlined" adoptions

PALMETTO -- A new program designed to streamline adoption is under way at Manatee County's Palmetto animal shelter.

The Palmetto animal shelter also sports a number of new features ranging from fresh paint to new benches for visitors, and big, shady trees planted in its play yard.

Another shelter in downtown Bradenton, which has been closed, is poised to reopen under a partnership with a rescue group that will operate it with volunteers.

Bill Hutchison, county interim animal services director, said he hopes the "adoption-ready pet program," small physical improvements and new partnership can help solve serious overcrowding.

"We're starting with 40 dogs and 40 cats, are sending them off to get nipped and tied, vaccinated, rabies shots, microchip, everything we do to get a pet ready for adoption, we're doing," Hutchison said Wednesday. "So, if you're looking for a dog, and you fall in love with one, he can go straight home with you."

Hutchison said he considered the previous adoption process inefficient, he said, because people had to endure a waiting period of a couple of days after they picked out a pet before they could take it home.

Surveys showed that's one reason prospective adoptive families would look at animals at the shelter and then leave without adopting.

Hutchison said he is try

ing to make adoption easy, painless and fulfilling by improving customer service at the Palmetto shelter. The pilot program will be paid for by the county, but Hutchison said he isn't sure how much it will cost.

Manatee County has been underinvesting in animal services for 20 years, he said, observing "those chickens have come home to roost."

"We have capacity for 60 animals in this place, and when we get to 80 animals (dogs) it's chaos at 80," said Hutchison. "And right now, we have been well over 100."

Although the "easy thing" would be to euthanize, "that's not what I want to do," he said. "I'm trying things, doing everything I can think of to help people come and get these animals."

Overcrowding is caused in part by a 2011 decision to adopt a No Kill policy, which specified the county would stop killing healthy animals in its care under a formal resolution and plan.

While the county commission approved No Kill with much enthusiasm, it was not accompanied by any more money to carry it out, an omission Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker acknowledged led to serious problems.

Animal rescue groups also complained after owners of a private shelter where the county sent animals for care were arrested and charged with multiple counts of animal cruelty.

A second county facility, the Downtown Adoption Center, 1002 B Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton, is closed but expected to reopen as an auxiliary facility for cats, said Hutchison.

"The downtown center was very, very effective at getting cats adopted," said Hutchison. "That's what our focus is."

The changes won praise from Jean Peelen, a member of the Manatee County Animal Services Advisory Board, which oversees the animal services division.

"I think it's terrific," said Peelen. "I think it's absolutely a step in the right direction."

To inquire about adoption, go to the Palmetto shelter, 305 25th St. W., call 941-742-5933, or go to mymanatee.org/home/government/departments/public-safety/animal-services/animal-adoption.html.

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